How drinks based on natural products can fight overweight and obesity

Drinks made from natural ingredients are another tool that may be utilized in the fight against overweight and obese conditions.

How drinks based on natural products can fight overweight and obesity
Natural product-based beverages can also be useful in the fight against obesity and overweight. Photo by Vitalii Pavlyshynets / Unsplash

According to the National Health and Nutrition Survey 2020, 74.1 percent of adults and 38.2 percent of children in Mexico are overweight or obese. Figures from the National Institute of Statistics and Geography show that the latter caused more than 360,000 deaths in the same year (218,000 from heart disease and 151,000 from diabetes).

Raquel Gómez Pliego, a professor at the Faculty of Higher Education (FES) Cuautitlán, has been working for several years to develop nutraceutical functional fermented foods that can help control this type of pathology and give consumers a cheap and easy-to-get product.

The reduction of overweight and obesity is considered the most important global public health challenge due to their rapid increase and the negative effect they have on the health of those who suffer from them. In addition, they are the main risk factors for the development of chronic non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, arterial hypertension, dyslipidemia, and cardiovascular diseases, among others.

Functional foods (FF) are those in which some of their components affect body functions in a specific and positive way, promoting a physiological or psychological effect beyond their traditional nutritional value. This effect may help keep people healthy and happy, or it may lower the risk of getting sick, or it may do both.

A nutraceutical is a product based on ingredients from nature that prevents chronic degenerative diseases such as heart attacks, strokes, hypertension, diabetes, and hormone-dependent cancers (mammary glands, prostate, thyroid, etc.).

Prebiotic Fibers: A Novel Source of Lactic Acid Bacteria

The researcher, together with thesis students of the Industrial Chemistry degree, evaluates the effect of prebiotic fibers (pea, broccoli, and wheat) on the survival of Lacticaseibacillus casei sups casei and on physicochemical and sensory changes that occur during the shelf life of fermented milk.

To develop this line of research, the university worked with a symbiotic formed by these gram-positive lactic acid bacteria (due to their properties, they are the most used strain in the industry to ferment cheese and yogurt) and wheat, pea, or broccoli fibers, because in their composition, all three have a soluble and an insoluble percentage.

Symbiotics are "a mixture of probiotics and prebiotics intended to increase the survival of health-promoting bacteria to modify the intestinal flora and its metabolism".

When fiber is exposed to water, it can be classified into two types: insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fibers promote digestion because they increase the peristaltic movements of the intestine. They are good for health because they make the intestines move more often and reduce constipation by figuring out how solid the stool is.

Meanwhile, soluble fibers expand in the intestine, reducing the speed of gastric emptying and, consequently, reducing appetite. Its benefits are reduction of cholesterol and atherosclerosis; protection against obesity, diabetes mellitus, and colon cancer; interference in the absorption of certain nutrients such as fats; and protection of the immunity of the bacterial flora of the colon.

Bioactive Peptides from Lactobacillus casei

The Lactobacillus casei species contains gram-positive anaerobic bacteria that favor the growth of beneficial microbes, protect the intestinal lining, and reduce the adhesion of pathogens.

"By adding this combination to a food, a good quality substrate is added, both for the organism and for the microorganism," explained Gómez Pliego. In the case of yogurt, during the fermentation of lactose and the degradation of proteins, a large number of bioactive peptides are produced, which improve the quality of the food, as they are more easily absorbed than protein and are better digestible.

It should be noted that bioactive peptides are inactive within the intact protein sequence and can be released by the action of proteolytic enzymes native to milk, enzymes from lactic acid bacteria, or exogenous sources, during gastrointestinal digestion or feed processing. Such peptides (derived from caseic and serum proteins) have been shown to possess several bioactive properties: opioid, antihypertensive, antimicrobial, immunomodulatory, mineral transport, and antithrombotic.

"This is the main difference between a commercial product and the one we make. By having a bioactive peptide, we give it a strong added value. "The brands on the market are probiotic, but survival will be lower," said the university professor.

Additionally, the use of this mixture favors the colonization of the intestinal tract with beneficial bacteria. For example, lactobacillus salivarius reduces gastric ulcers caused by Helicobacter pylori. Another property of lactic acid bacteria combined with fiber is that they lower cholesterol concentrations in the blood.

Survival of lactobacillus casei

The purpose of this evaluation is to guarantee that the combination of fiber with bacteria does not generate changes that affect the survival of the microorganism, sensory properties, or chemical parameters, such as viscosity, acidity, pH, titratable acidity, and moisture, among others.

This ensures that the consumer buys a product classified as probiotic and that cell viability is maintained while it is in storage or refrigerated. Also, it has a pleasant aroma and flavor. "Mainly, we must be certain that the beneficial activity is preserved," explained the researcher.

Among the results obtained, broccoli was the most optimal fiber for the survival of the probiotic bacteria, as that of wheat and peas decreased, since the acidity of the product was affected because the bacteria continued to produce lactic acid.

"During the first three weeks, the survival was up to 100 times greater; however, as time increased, it was mostly 10 times greater." Once the experiment concluded, in broccoli, we had 1x108 Colony Forming Units (CFU), while with the others, 1x106 CFU. In both cases, they are still probiotics, "said the academic.

Currently, the group is working on modifying a certain vegetable aftertaste in the broccoli drink, and the next step of the project is to evaluate the effect of these products on biochemical variables related to metabolic syndrome and behavioral tests.

Another aspect of this line of research is the evaluation of the use of symbiotics and their correlation with the intestine-brain axis, for which they based themselves on data published by other scientists indicating that the combination of fiber and probiotics improves memory. At the moment, they are testing it on rats to see if it helps them remember and learn.