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Serving Up Calorie-Controlled Entrées

It’s no secret that the majority of consumers are calorie-conscious, but would you guess that for 95 million U.S. adults dieting is a constant concern? The numbers come from the 2007 Consumer Survey from the Calorie Control Council, Atlanta. “We feel consumers are going to continue looking for foods and beverages that help them cut calories without sacrificing great taste, variety or convenience,” says Robin Steagall, R.D., L.D., M.S., manager nutrition communications at the Council. “Our survey found that 86% of American adults use low-calorie, reducedsugar or sugar-free foods and beverages. This is higher than any previous level.” Using light products is just one strategy consumers reported using to control their weight. Others include: exercise (83%), eating smaller portions of favorite foods (82%) and combining calorie reduction with exercise (73%).

There is no single magic formula to combat weight gain. But, for everyone, it’s a matter of math: More calories taken in than burned results in weight gain. Unused calories are stored as fat. One pound of fat is equivalent to 3,500 calories, so reducing 3,500 calories over time allows the loss of 1 lb. of fat.

Many consumers find that substituting a low-calorie entrée for either lunch or dinner helps them control their caloric intake.

Development strategies

“Common strategies for promoting healthy eating habits are controlling portion size and reducing the energy density of the meal,” says Jill Norcross, associate principal scientist, Kraft Food Ingredients, Memphis, TN. “Satiety may not be reached in portion size alone. Given the same volume of food, it may be advantageous to replace more energy-dense ingredients with equally satisfying flavor components. In essence, you can suppress the sensory receptors that drive satiety as long as there isn’t an adverse flavor trade-off.” She notes that highly flavored processed cheese and cheese flavors “could successfully be leveraged at lower usage levels to create a satisfying lower-calorie application.”

It’s important to distinguish between satiety and satisfaction. Satiety is a state where you no longer want to eat. Scientists study theories of the relationship between satiety and metabolic changes, and peptide and/or hormone release. Satisfaction is the contentment derived from consuming a flavorful, gratifying meal.

The challenge for food scientists is to meet both objectives. Jeff Banes, culinary development manager, FONA International, Geneva, IL, notes: “You can have something that’s really highly flavored, but if you’re hungry again within 30 minutes to an hour, then it did not satiate you.”

Steagall suggests a general formula for creating a balanced, reduced-calorie dinner. “Fill one half of the plate with vegetables and then divide the other half of the plate with a lean protein and a serving of whole-grain carbohydrate, such as brown rice or whole-wheat pasta,” she says. “Add fiber to entrées in the form of whole grains, beans and legumes, and vegetables.” It’s also important to concentrate on serving sizes. A serving of meat should be 2 oz. to 3 oz., as opposed to the restaurant- size 12-oz. serving.

How can the industry give pizzazz to such a basic blueprint, much less appeal to consumers fond of super-size servings? Mix it up, for one. The same ratio can work in a one-dish meal like a bowl, a sandwich or a casserole.

It’s a challenge for food companies to match the flavor and comfort consumers derive from full-calorie, full-fat, quickly prepared entrées such as macaroni and cheese, a potpie, and country-fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy. But, it is possible to create reduced-calorie, comfort-style meat like a hot dog or sausage patty. According to Sharon Gerdes, technical support consultant, Dairy Management Inc.™, Rosemont, IL, whey protein ingredients can “replace a significant portion of fat in a variety of meat applications” because they bind water up to 10 times their weight. “Whey protein concentrate (WPC) and whey protein isolate (WPI) have been used successfully to replace all or part of the fat in sausage, hamburger, hot-dog and chicken-nugget applications,” she notes.

According to Gerdes, “A 2002 Institute of Medicine review of macronutrients states ‘a number of short-term studies indicate that protein intake exerts a more-powerful effect on satiety than either carbohydrate or fat.’” Dairy ingredients such as nonfat dry milk, WPC and WPI, and low-fat cheese supply quality protein.

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from-Cindy Hazen, Contributing Editor Food Product Design

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Americans Are Concerned