Messing with a Spud’s Glycemic Index

chipsAnybody who has worried about cutting carbs or sticking to a South Beach diet has probably heard of the term glycemic index. In short, it’s a scale that indicates how quickly eating a specific type of food will raise your blood sugar levels.

If you’re an athlete, you want that blood sugar spike to fuel your competition. If you’re dieting, you want to avoid that rush because excess sugar will quickly be stored as fat if you don’t use it immediately and you’ll be hungry again very quickly. And if you’re a diabetic, the sugar rush can kill you.

There’s not much left to do but avoid certain foods like highly processed carbohydrates and simple starches. That is, unless you’re a kick-ass food scientist.

Take Srinivas Janaswamy from Purdue University, for example. He’s figured out a way to embed different kinds of molecules within a simple starch lattice.

A simple starch is little more than a handful of glucose (sugar) molecules linked together in a certain pattern—a pattern that creates holes. Janaswamy has shown that he can insert different molecules inside of these natural holes, changing the way the starch is digested without actually changing the chemistry of the starch itself.

Sort of like sticking a bunch of fruit inside of a Jello mold; you don’t change the Jello at all but the bits get trapped and go along for the ride.

So far he’s shown that adding certain molecules can slow down the digestion of a potato starch, which in theory could stop the common food from causing blood sugar spikes. But he’s also going further and showing that you can embed just about anything from antioxidants to vitamins to flavor molecules. Sounds like the first step to a healthy potato chip that tastes like chocolate to me!

There is one catch, of course, and that is that the process has only been shown to work in vitro. For those of you lacking in your Latin, that phrase means that it hasn’t been tested inside of an actual stomach yet, only outside of an organism in a dish or beaker somewhere. Only time will tell if the method works inside of an actual stomach.

The paper, “Encapsulation altered starch digestion: Toward developing starch-based delivery systems,” was published in the journal Carbohydrate Polymers by Janaswarmy and Janaswarmy alone.


About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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