The New Diabetes Formulation Paradigm

The recent trend of developing diabetes-specific products that are mainstream and safe enough for regular consumption could transcend all healthy food and beverage categories.

By Kantha Shelke, Ph.D.

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Polyphenolic compounds called catechins and epicatechins in green tea, thought to protect against heart disease and certain cancers, also are believed to act as insulin sensitizers and perhaps even pancreatic protectants. (The pancreas is the organ responsible for producing insulin, the hormone that regulates glucose.) By delaying glucose absorption, green tea extracts can also mitigate the glycemic load of foods.

Diabetes cover story: Photo of blueberries
The U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council says recent studies suggest anthocyanins - which blueberries have in abundance - may help control blood sugar levels.

Polyphenols from cinnamon have long been believed to improve glucose and lipid status. More recent research indicates cinnamon compounds may prevent insulin resistance. However, the fat-soluble compounds in cinnamon can be harmful at high levels. Integrity Nutraceuticals International, Sarasota, Fla., has licensed and patented a method to extract only the beneficial fractions to create Cinnulin PF. Cinnulin PF may be used for formulating foods and beverages.

Fenugreek, an herb used in Eastern European, Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine, is an excellent source of bioactive phytochemicals for managing glucose. Fenugreek contains a free amino acid, 4-hydroxyisoleucine, which stimulates insulin secretion and limits the elevation of glucose in the blood. It also is rich in galactomannans, soluble fibers that can significantly reduce postprandial glucose levels.

The major issue with incorporating fenugreek in formulations is its strong aroma. Acatris Inc., Minneapolis, has developed a process for an odor-free fenugreek extract called Fenulife. In addition to helping regulate insulin, Fenulife includes the galactomannans that form a viscous gel. In the gastrointestinal tract, the gel can help slow the absorption of sugar.

According to the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, San Francisco, recent studies reveal that cells that normally produce insulin secreted more of the hormone in the presence of anthocyanins, the flavonoid pigments that provide the red, blue or purple color to foods such as blueberries, strawberries and cherries. The data suggest anthocyanins may help control blood sugar levels. Blueberries are particularly high in anthocyanins.

A plant that is less familiar to westerners but showing great promise in this area is the bitter melon. Popular in Asian cooking, the chartreuse squash possesses an active, blood sugar-lowering property in the form of an alkaloid called charantin. The plant also contains insulinlike peptides, such as polypeptide P. Several companies have developed extracts of the plant for food and beverage use.

Well Oiled

DSM Nutritional Products, Parsippany, N.J., engineered fractionates of palm and oat oil into Fabuless, an emulsion clinically proven to lower calorie metabolism by delaying digestion. It is also believed to help the body suppress hunger signals. In addition, Degussa Bioactives, Waukesha, Wis., has a novel alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) formulation for use in foods. ALA plays an important role in the body in maintaining healthy antioxidant levels but it recently attracted attention by demonstrating a positive effect on blood glucose levels. Improved insulin sensitivity has been reported with doses of 600mg/day in individuals with type 2 diabetes.

In the past, formulating foods with ALA was severely limited because of its low stability in shear and heat and its irritating effect on the throat. However, microencapsulation with alpha-cyclodextrin allows for foods to be fortified with alpha-lipoic acid while improving shelf life and flavor. BI Neutraceuticals, Long Beach, Calif., took a different approach to the stability problems with ALA. The result is K-RALA (potassium-R-lipoate), a heat-stable, nonhygroscopic, and nonpolymeric potassium salt of R-lipoic acid. ALA is now GRAS (generally recognized as safe).

While foods marketed to individuals with diabetes clearly offer the promise of higher margins, companies looking at mainstream rather than niche markets should bear in mind that consumers without a diagnosed medical problem are unlikely to pay a premium to manage their glucose metabolism. This is a great opportunity for food companies to step in with functional formulation solutions viable for the population at risk while appealing to the entire population as well.

Rising GI Levels

Although health experts disagree over the principle of marketing foods labeled as "low-glycemic index" to persons without diabetes, low-GI products are certainly on marketers' radar screens. Todd Hale, senior vice president of consumer and shopper insights for ACNielsen, Chicago, predicts "a continued rise in consumer demand for low-GI products in the coming year." He cautions, "Manufacturers need to be paying close attention to this segment."

In 2005, low-GI products were a strong category, growing by almost 50 percent over the prior year by those considered "health neglectors," as identified by ACNielsen data and Spectra segmentation. Hale prognosticates, "This year, expect a surge in food and beverages touting low-glycemic index claims."

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