After all the pre- and post-election brouhaha, here’s good news of a different kind from England.

Scientists at the Institute of Food Research in Norwich are experimenting with a new weight-loss strategy — KEEP EATING!

According to an Associated Press story, food expert Peter Wilde and his colleagues are developing foods that slow down the digestive system and send a signal to the brain that suppresses appetite. The research is preliminary, and it won’t do us any good this holiday season, but Wilde says it should eventually be possible to treat foods in such a way that will make dieting easier.

Wilde thinks the technique will work with any foods that contain fat, such as precooked sauces, dairy products, mayonnaise and pastries. He adds that the taste would probably not be affected. The word “probably” curbed my enthusiasm a little, but I suspect most folks would at least give the foods a try.

The scientific reasoning is a bit beyond my understanding, but a simplified explanation seems to boil down to hornswoggling the body’s mechanisms for digesting fat.

Wilde’s approach coats fat droplets in foods with modified proteins from plants so it takes longer for the enzymes that break down fat to reach it. Thus, the fat isn’t digested until it hits the far reaches of the intestines, where cells send a signal telling the brain “You’re full.”

Even though you haven’t had a high-fat meal, your appetite is suppressed as if you had. If the fat had been digested earlier in the digestive tract, no such signal would be sent, or so they say.

Apparently stealth triumphs.

Now while all this is going on in Norwich, British scientists at the University of Newcastle are working on another theory. They’re testing a seaweed extract that reduces fat absorption by cutting the level of glucose digested early on in the digestive process. I have no idea what they’re talking about, but the article did mention that this second technique is similar to the way some diet drugs work, but those drugs are the ones that can result in such side effects as gas and diarrhea.

Good grief! Remember the TV ads for medications which say side effects may include such things as a drop in blood pressure, stroke, and a long list of frightening occurrences? All sound worse than the original condition you’re treating, but perhaps the seaweed extract will avoid these problems.

As we might expect, not all the experts around the world are convinced that appetite-stopping foods will be a cure-all anyway. The AP quoted Alice H. Liechtenstein, a nutritionist at Tufts University near Boston, who observed “Humans are a very messy group to control.” They’re motivated to eat for reasons ranging from taste to price to childhood nostalgia, she added.

A professor of investigative medicine at London’s Imperial College is more encouraging. “Being able to switch off appetite would be a big help for people who have trouble losing weight,” said Steve Bloom. “Dieting is an awful bore and most human beings are very gullible. We need all the help science can provide.”

I have no scientific credentials whatsoever, but I’d like to offer a layman’s input on what foods Wilde might use when he coats fat droplets. He did mention broad categories like prepared sauces, mayonnaise and pastries, but I have more specific suggestions.

If Wilde really wants to be a help to people trying to diet, he should start his experiments with a basic food like Snickers candy bars. Nuts, chocolate, nougat — a heart-stopping combination of sugar and fat.

I was so inspired by the idea of personal research, that I went to the break room here at the office to buy a candy bar.

Crisis time. The snack machine was not accepting change that day. All my quarters went straight through.

Serious researchers are not easily put off, however. There is another candy machine in the building, so I hurried downstairs. Unfortunately there were no Snickers left in that machine, which only goes to prove that this is a popular confection, and scientists should get right at it.

Expanding my field of study, I settled for a Milky Way bar, my second favorite candy. According to the wrapper, the bar contains 260 calories, and has 90 fat calories — another fertile area for fat droplet coating.

Moving right along with research, I would also like to nominate pizza, one of the five basic food groups, as a promising subject of study. Show me the person who needs to lose weight and I’ll show you someone who is probably addicted to pizza as well as Snickers and Milky Ways.

I have many more innovative ideas, but because the AP article said products using Wilde’s new approach might not be on store shelves for a couple of years, I’ll not overburden the researchers today.

I can always forward my Snickers information to them later. Actually I could use a snack right now. No time like the present to begin accumulating data.



Ferguson is a feature writer for the Herald-Banner.

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