Carbohydrates, which provide about 50 per cent of the average energy intake, play an important role in metabolism, and are known to influence insulin levels, and hormones related to appetite, hunger and satiety.
"However, there is a large diversity within the group of carbohydrates," said Anke Sentko, vice president regulatory affairs and nutrition communication for the Beneo-Group. "This diversity did not receive proper attention up to now, but is very interesting from a scientific point of view, for health professionals and for food manufacturers interested in providing products with health benefits to the market."
The conference sought to explore the potential of functional carbohydrates to modify energy metabolism, with particular focus on the group's ingredients, including inulin and fructooligosaccharides, rice-derived ingredients, and slow-release carbohydrates.
"These functional carbohydrates provide various aspects that should be taken into consideration when talking about weight management. In the fight against obesity calories still count - but there are more aspects to be considered that might be helpful in a successful weight management," added Sentko.
Obesity is recognised as having reached epidemic proportions in the Western world. According to the figures prepared by the International Obesity Taskforce, there are variations in prevalence of obesity (body mass index of BMI over 30) across Europe but there is a marked upwards curve. Population obesity rates range from 10 per cent to 27 per cent in men and up to 38 per cent in women.
Realignment paying dividends
Last October, the Sudzucker Group announced the incorporation of a new functional foods group called Beneo, bringing together Orafti, Palatinit and Remy to build critical mass to tackle the changing needs of a global, health focused food industry.
"The expertise in life sciences developed in the three individual companies and in the mother company is united in the Beneo-Group for the benefit of the whole group including its individual business units (Beneo-Orafti, Beneo-Palatinit and Beneo-Remy)," explained Sentko. "Regulatory Affairs activities are united as well, providing the experience and know how for the whole Beneo-Group and our customers."
Orafti claims to have played a major hand in developing the prebiotic market as a pioneer in inulin and fructooligosaccharides. Palatinit's operations are based around its Isomalt sugar replacer - used in hard boiled candies and gum - and its Palatinose slow-release carb, while Remy produces rice-derived starches, flours, proteins and stabilised rice bran.
The potential of prebiotics
A breakthrough paper published in Nature in December 2006 reported that microbial populations in the gut are different between obese and lean people, and that when the obese people lost weight their microflora reverted back to that observed in a lean person, suggesting that obesity may have a microbial component. Whether direct manipulation of the gut microflora in obese people can lead to weight reduction is yet to be proved, but the finding is offering an exciting and interesting avenue of research for scientists.
Dr. Kieran Touhy from the University of Reading noted that obese animals have significantly lower bifidobacteria levels than their lean counterparts, which suggests potential for prebiotic fibres since the growth of these bacteria is selectively promoted by inulin and fructooligosaccharides. Dr. Nathalie Delzenne from the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium and Dr. Robert Welch from the University of Ulster presented results from animal and human studies, respectively, which indicated the potential of prebiotic supplementation to regulated food intake. Several mechanisms were proposed, including potential stimulation of satiety hormones such as GLP-1, a potential role for calcium, as well as the potential role of the gut microflora, but these require significant more exploration.
The potential of Beneo-Palatinit's Palatinose for weight management was reviewed by Gunhild Kozianowski from the Beneo-Group. The slow release, low glycemic carbohydrate has a caloric value of two kilocalories per gram, compared to four kcal per gram for classical nutritive carbohydrates like glucose. Studies have reported that consumption of the functional disaccharide led to increased fat burning, while the lack of fermentation by bacteria in the mouth indicated the ingredient was also toothfriendly. Isomalt, another ingredient from Palatinit, was also discussed. It is a polyol and well known in sugarfree products for its toothfriendly properties, but a recent study reportedly showed that consumption of the polyol in foods could improve the glycaemic load experienced by type 2 diabetics following a meal.
"With our first conference we wanted to highlight this interesting field of research and wanted to demonstrate as well our competence in this field as the Beneo-Group is an expert in the field of carbohydrates with functional properties," said Sentko.
Stephen Daniells' attendance at the 1st European Beneo Scientific Symposium was partially financed by Beneo.