Slow-carb your bread, pasta and muffins?!?
Is there a wonder ingredient that could slow-carb your regular food?
Imagine a world full of pasta, bread, muffins and other foods that were just as good as the beans that are a feature of the slow carb diet. These might not be something you see on your grocery shelf, but the reality is that these products might be closer than you think.
That’s because there’s a new wave of dietary ingredients becoming more and more popular in certain foods available today. And those ingredients are aimed at increasing the fiber content of a range of common foods.
Already, there are yogurts with added fiber supplements, breads that digest more slowly than porridge and maybe even as slowly as some varieties of bean.
There’s also been publication of details about the starch in heated and cooled potatoes being more like indigestible fiber, and there’s plenty of energy bars now marketed as low carb that have all kinds of new fiber in them, which reportedly doesn’t affect blood sugar and slows digestion.
Now, the reality is of course that this is very early days. Certain food companies are starting to recognize the value in slowing digestion down, and creating products that digest more slowly – but I think it’s more likely in reaction to consumer desires, not necessarily because they have consumer health at heart.
There’s a range of additives that are being used to achieve this effect and effectively lower the GI (Glycemic Index) of these foods, and I want to take a quick look at a few of them.
Glucomannan – This is derived from a plant root, and is being used in a number of ways. It is possible to buy this in capsule form, however governments have released warnings about consuming such tablets before bed, as the effect they have is to draw water and expand in size. If a capsule is not fully digested into the stomach, this process could be a dangerous one while you’re asleep. They seem OK to take during the day however, as long as you drink plenty of water, and have the effect of increasing the bulk in your stomach. This then means that meals consumed with carbohydrates are digested more slowly and therefore have a lower impact on blood sugar levels.
Glucomannan is also being added to a variety of foods, more in an experimental way, however you might see it start to be used more widely as it is adopted. One notable usage is in noodles that are being produced that are reportedly ’0 calorie’ due to the fact that they are all fiber. These present an interesting look at how some foods may be offered in the future, where bulk is favored over calories.
Guar gum – This is derived from the Guar bean, and is a galactomannan polysaccharide. When placed in contact with water, it forms a viscous gel which accounts for slower digestion and therefore a lowered GI of a meal. Some sources recommend taking guar gum before a meal, whilst other food manufacturers have started using it (notably ‘Bakers Delight’ in Australia for their ‘Low GI’ white bread) to reduce the GI of usually-high GI products.
Inulin – is a natural polysaccharide derived from the Chicory root, and is a soluble fiber. That means it takes up water that is available, but is not digested. Therefore, it adds to bulk and slows down digestion. Inulin is also considered a prebiotic, because it partially ferments in the lower GI tract and provides a good base for healthy bacteria to grow. It may increase calcium absorption and magnesium absorption too. It contains around 30% of the calories of regular food and can be used to replace fat, sugar, flour and starch.
Polydextrose – Is an artificially produced polymer of glucose. That basically means it is an engineered type of food ingredient that the body can’t fully digest and process. This means it has a low caloric impact – around 1 calorie per gram (compared to 4 calories per gram for carbohydrates), but is very versatile and can be used to replace fat, sugar, flour and starch, like inulin. It is commonly used in processed foods for diabetics, and low carb diets. It can act as a thickener and a stabilizer.
Maltodextrin – This is modified so that it’s resistant to human digestive enzymes, and therefore gets counted as fiber. It’s hard to say whether or not it truly has a fiber-effect in the human body. It can be reported as fiber on the label, but its hard to say if its the same to your body.
Extra fat – The addition of healthy fats from nuts and seeds, to items like bread and muffins can slow down the absorption of carbohydrates, especially if these products are modified with some of the above ingredients. Commonly, Lower GI breads actually have a higher fat content and higher calorie count than regular breads.
High Fiber Barley – Developed in Australia, the modified Barley known as BarleyMAX™ exhibits Low GI properties while delivering high quality carbohydrates. It was naturally developed, and is not genetically modified. It contains twice the dietary fibre of regular grains, four times the resistant starch and is used in products like bread, flat bread wraps, and breakfast cereals. These products are manufactured by ‘Goodness Superfoods’ in Australia, and include a raw ingredient version called ‘FibreBoost – Sprinkles’.
Sugar cane fiber – This new product has been developed in Australia over the last 5 years and is slowly filtering to food companies for use in commercially made bread and baked goods. Using a process to turn the sugar cane stalks into fiber, the product created can be used in a wide variety of applications as a thickener, as it absorbs water at a six to one ratio. This product is marketed as Fibacel™ and is being used in products extending to chocolate and muffins, due to its smooth texture and mouth feel that is similar to fat. There is even suggestion that this product be added to pure sugar, to reduce its GI rating from ‘high’ to ‘low’.
Other resistant starches, Distarch phosphates – these modified products can bulk out a product, like bread or other manufactured foods, but not be digested in the same way carbohydrates are. There are too many to list out here, but there is a wide variety being used in certain products, for the same or similar result.
This list is only due to grow, and be used more widely in food products in coming years. With more focus on diabetes and other health issues related to blood sugar regulation, weight management and food sources being one part of the cause, food manufacturers are likely to want to capitalize on increasing market awareness and start producing more food products with these ingredients.
The important thing to note right now however is that this is early-days, and there isn’t a lot of research around that shows the long term effects (if any) of these types of additives. So use caution and do your research as more becomes available. A lot of the ‘fiber’ products above aren’t necessarily just added from a natural source – they may be created or modified ingredients in a lab, that then resemble fiber, and therefore allow companies to report higher fiber doses. They’re not all equal, so use caution with these, and don’t count on supplementary fiber, like maltodextrin, being equal to fiber you get from vegetables and legumes.
Time will tell as to whether modified food products, with supplementary fiber will have a positive effect on overall health and/or weight maintenance or fat loss.
What do you think about modified products with lower GI ratings, having the potential to broaden the options for people wanting to manage their weight through what they eat? Leave a comment below!
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