Could eating “air” be the next diet craze?

Bubbly beverages may be a dieter’s best friend, according to a study which showed that humans are less hungry following the consumption of an aerated drink versus its non-aerated equivalent.

In the study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, participants were fed three milk-based drinks. Two were aerated into foams, via whipping, while the third was standard milk. The researchers used MRI technology to visualize the drinks inside their participant’s stomachs and found that compared to normal milk, aerated milk caused the stomach to stretch more, which resulted in decreased feelings of hunger.

Luca Marciani, an Assistant Professor at the University of Nottingham, School of Medicine, and senior author of the study, said he wasn’t surprised by the finding, “previous work (has shown) that the gastrointestinal mechanisms kicking in after a person has ingested (aerated) food will reduce appetite.” Nevertheless, he explained that the clever aspect of their experiment was the fact that they stabilized one of the drinks, via the addition of xantham gum—a type of fiber which functions as a scaffold for the bubbles and keeps the foam-like texture of the beverage intact post-swallowing. However, despite the fact that the stabilized milk (containing xantham gum) spent significantly more time in the stomach, there was no difference in the participant’s appetite when comparing the stabilized and non-stabilized beverages. Meaning, even without the “scaffold”, aeration could still be helpful. Not to mention, previous research using non-milk beverages (that were not stabilized) has similarly found that the more carbonated a beverage is, the more satiating it is.

But does this mean aerated beverages are the next best thing for dieters?

Registered Dietitian Christy Brissette said, “While this is an interesting finding…we would need a long-term, randomized controlled trial to see if carbonated drinks could impact weight over time.” Furthermore, she added that consumers should be careful about certain “zero calorie” flavoured drinks, which despite being carbonated, could have negative health implications: such as colas that contain phosphoric acid, and could lower bone density, as well as artificially sweetened drinks that could cause glucose intolerance. She also warned that for some individuals carbonated beverages could cause gas and bloating. Despite this, she commented, “I encourage my clients to drink plenty of water throughout the day and having some of this as carbonated water may improve satiety between meals.”

The scientific literature on carbonated beverages has been increasing in recent years, as this is not the first study to find this effect. Thus it’s no surprise that at-home sparkling water machines are quickly becoming a fixture in many homes. In 2013, Samsung introduced its first line of refrigerators with a carbonator built-in and companies like SodaStream, have been selling at-home water carbonation systems in Canada since 2012. According to Susie McRae, the Director of Marketing, “(SodaStream) has incurred double digit growth every year…(and) while it’s still a young business in Canada, it’s very established in Europe and the Middle East.”

SodaStream uses a carbon dioxide cylinder to turn plain old tap water in sparkling water, and its benefits extend beyond the potentially satiating effects of its product. SodaStream is environmentally-friendly (think of all the plastic bottles it eliminates), cost-effective and convenient, saving you from “schlepping” bottles and cans. Despite its short history in Canada, the company has been around since 1903, having originally created sparkling water machines for the British Upper Class including the royal household.

So will we see the food industry pumping more and more air into our food in the coming years? Only time will tell. Then again, have you ever noticed how low-fat ice cream is less dense than its regular counterpart? In fact, we’re probably already eating more air than we realize.

 

 

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