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Diabetics, Fast Food and HPMC

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Diabetics, Fast Food and HPMC

Diabetics, Fast Food and HPMC

November 13, 2007

By: Laurie Edwards for Diabetes1

With so much in the news about diabetes and its link to our diets, we all know that we should eat high-fat fast foods sparingly. But if you just can’t let go of greasy hamburgers and salty fries, researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture may have the answer you’ve been looking for: a compound that, when added to fast food products, slows down the absorption of fat and decreases the likelihood of insulin resistance in animals.

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While the news is encouraging for fast food enthusiasts, some experts aren’t exactly overjoyed. In a nation where obesity and related type 2 diabetes is sharply increasing, will such news merely encourage more unhealthy eating and behaviors by subtracting the consequences?

The compound, known as HPMC, has been used for decades to improve texture in many foods, but this is the first time it has been studied in the context of a functional food product. Once human studies are conducted, expected to happen within the year, the compound could be added to pizza, hamburgers and hot dogs in as little time as two years.

There is an important warning here: Though the compound could decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, it isn’t likely to decrease the epidemic of obesity in the United States.

“Obviously, the less fat you eat, the better of you are. But if you’re going to eat high fat foods, then adding HPMC to it might help limit the damage,” said research chemist Dr. Wallace H. Yokoyama, who works with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and co-author of the study.

While researchers do not fully understand how HPMC works, they believe it serves as a sort of fat regulator by preventing large amounts of fat from quickly entering the digestive system. The relationship to insulin resistance is that saturated fats limit the amount of protein that carries glucose into cells. “So, once that happens and the body sees a buildup of glucose in the bloodstream, it causes insulin to increase,” explained Yokoyama.

HPMC may also figure in the transport fat into adipose tissue, which is where the body stores fat. When the body gets too much fat in a short time, fat is rapidly dispatched to other tissues in the body instead of adipose tissue, namely the liver, heart and pancreas. How does this relate to diabetes? Pancreatic damage is a known contributor to developing the condition.

But does this news send the wrong message? “It’s interesting research,” said Dr. Nathaniel G. Clark, national vice president of the American Diabetes Association, who fears people will interpret the news this way: “We’ll manipulate your diet so you can eat the foods we know aren’t good for when eaten in a large quantity on a regular basis.”

Clark points out that while significant, diabetes is not the only negative consequence of high -fat diets – heart disease and obesity itself should not be overlooked.


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