‘Make the effective solution the easy solution’: How the industry can drive NPD to aid digestive and metabolic health

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

There has been research interest in the concept of chrono nutrition and the pre-diabetic population. ©Getty Images
There has been research interest in the concept of chrono nutrition and the pre-diabetic population. ©Getty Images

Related tags Diabetes Metabolism Digestion Growth Asia 2021

Food, beverage and nutrition solutions to aid digestive and metabolic health are becoming increasingly popular as Asia’s population rapidly ages, but future NPD needs to make these “effective solutions the easy solutions,” according to experts at the second edition of our Growth Asia Series 2021.

New research findings, future directions, and new product development opportunities on topics related to ‘Healthy Ageing: Metabolic and Digestive Health’ were highlighted during the webinar. [Listen on demand here​]

The panel consisted of Michelle Lee, regional marketing leader at IFF, Christian Philippsen, managing director at BENEO Asia Pacific, Florence Leong, co-founder and CEO at KosmodeHealth – a National University of Singapore Food Science Technology startup, Dr Sumanto Haldar, principal investigator at Singpore Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation (SIFBI) at A*STAR, and Associate Professor Alexander Tups from the University of Otago.

Diabetes is one of the most commonly seen metabolic diseases in Asia, due to genetic predisposition, diet, and lifestyle factors.

China tops the world’s with its high number of diabetic cases. Elsewhere, diabetes is the fastest growing chronic disease in Australia, with most cases diagnosed as type II diabetes.

In fact, it is believed that there are far more cases undetected and undiagnosed.

While research has found ways to control blood glucose, it is paramount to make it an “easy solution”, ​so that patients and consumers can adopt good dietary habits in the long term, keynote speaker Professor Grant Brinkworth, senior principal research scientist at Australia’s national research agency CSIRO said.

­­In a recent meta-analysis​, Prof Brinkworth and his colleagues found that low carbohydrate diets could help achieve diabetes remission.

For every 100 patients who followed the low carbohydrate diet, 32 per cent were able to achieve diabetes remission after six months on a controlled low-carbohydrate diet.

A low carbohydrate diet also led to more weight loss, reduction in diabetes medication, and blood triglycerides.

However, most of the benefits diminished when the study was extended to 12 months. 

Prof Brinkworth said that this could be due to the lack of adherence to the assigned dietary intervention.

“The specific reasons are not entirely clear from the study that we have conducted in this meta-analysis, but it is probably most likely due to dietary adherence.

“If you look at many diet studies, where the participants were assigned to either a high carb or low carb diet [and] when no professional support was provided, people often struggled to adhere to the diet that they were assigned to over the long term.”

“We really need to find simple and cost-effective solutions and strategies to help people to better adhere to low-carb diets...What we are trying to do is to make the effective solution the easy solution, so that people can adopt these dietary patterns and get the benefits over the long term." 

In this case, CSIRO has worked with Australian company Be Fit Food in designing scientifically proven low-carbohydrate diets for improving metabolic health and blood glucose control.

New product development

Lee added that new product development would need to take into consideration the pain points and day-to-day health challenges that consumers, especially the seniors, were facing.

"It is important because sometimes they [the elderly] cant prepare a simple meal on their own. For example, when we talked to the Japanese consumers, they said that they were too weak to even stand alone to prepare a meal. So [we need to consider] do we need to have a food product that is designed in a way that is faster in preparation [with] less ingredients required, in order to improve the overall food preparing experience,"​ she said.

A consumer study conducted by IFF and IPSOS last year showed that gut and digestive health was among the top concerns amongst consumers from China and South Korea.

In both countries, 20 per cent of the respondents said that was their key concern, alongside immune and bone health.

Ingredient supplier BENEO said it has developed functional fibres, carbohydrates, proteins that offer blood glucose management, digestive health, weight management, bone health benefits.

For instance, its prebiotic chicory root fibres trademark Orafti inulin and Orafti oligofructose are said to promote digestive wellbeing and Palatinose – made based on sucrose from sugar beet, could improve blood glucose management.

Philippsen also echoed the need to make food palatable to help increase consumers’ fibre intake.  

“There could be many reasons on why people are not eating sufficient fibre, [it could be because] they don’t know how much fibre they are taking...On the other hand, all the pressure coming from the hectic lifestyle makes it difficult to watch our diet and so, everyone needs to do their part to move to a more balanced diet.

"We also need to make sure that people do need to continue to enjoy food, and so, we need to constantly look into new recipes and new concepts, for instance fat reduced ice cream, where you can incorporate fibre in it, because fibre is slightly sweet and gives good texture to the product,"​ he said. 

Industry research

During the panel discussion, several clinical trials on digestive and metabolic health were highlighted by the industry and scientists.

For example, Singapore start-up KosmodeHealth is planning to conduct a study on the impact of its zero-starch, zero-cholesterol noodles on glycaemic index and gut health, Leong said. The noodles are made from upcycled barley. 

“We want to show the benefits of the products by doing a proper study, take records of participants' glycaemic index, measure the impact of [barley] fibre on gut health. We are also looking to collaborate with partners on the impact of protein and upcycled powder on gut health," ​she said.

The noodles sold under the brand name W0W​, is sold in online stores and SaladStop! outlets in Singapore.  

“In the past, consumers only wanted to fill their stomach. But as we developed, we are demanding healthier food, and the industry needs to keep up with this.

“While we have formulated W0W for people who need it, it is the people who wants it who are willing to pay for it, whereas those who need it have hesitated to pay for it."

The W0W noodles, which could be used to prepare popular local foods such as laksa and char kway tiao, were initially created to “restore the pleasure of eating” ​for seniors and diabetic patients, said Leong. 

Longitudinal studies

The need for longitudinal research which studies pre-diabetes and the timing of food intake was also raised during the panel discussion.

Researchers at the University of Otago are studying how supplementation of dahlia extract could reverse diabetic symptoms.

“The goal is to target brain inflammation with anti-inflammatory diets and study how this can prevent diabetes.

“There are more people with pre-diabetes than people with diabetes. We want to target this group of people as it is easier to prevent the onset of diabetes than to reverse diabetes,”​ said Prof Tups who developed the dahlia extract.  

On the other hand, Dr Sumanto and his team are also about to complete a 16-week RCT on how legumes could affect pre-diabetes, with HbA1c as the biomarker measured.

He also studied the concept of chrono-nutrition, which is how the timing of food intake could affect postprandial glucose homeostasis.

“We have shown for the first time that even if you had a high GI food in the morning, the postprandial response would be lower than the low GI food taken at night.

“We are recommending that one must take into account the timing in which the carbs are eaten, and not just how much was taken and the quality of the carbohydrates,”​ he said. 

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