Glycemic Index Testing
Coming soon to more labels near you?
The incidence of diabetes is sharply on the rise. According to Medco Health Solutions Inc.’s 2007 Drug Trend Report, diabetes treatment medicine costs could jump 60% to 68% between this year and 2009. In light of ongoing concerns about diabetes, a growing number of food and beverage companies are actively submitting their products for Glycemic Index (GI) testing—a system of ranking the quality of carbohydrate in a food according to the immediate effect it has on blood glucose—to better inform consumers about the types of products they are eating and drinking.
GI testing compares individual foods to pure glucose, which has its GI set at 100. (For comparison, pearl barley has a value of 33, oranges are 49 and whole wheat bread is 71.) The GI concept was conceived of in 1979 by Dr. David Jenkins, together with Dr. Thomas Wolever MD, PhD, DM, and Dr. Alexandra Jenkins, PhD, RD, by way of research conducted at both Oxford University and the University of Toronto in an effort to determine which foods would be best for people with diabetes.
Glycemic Index Laboratories Inc., the Toronto, ON-based GI testing lab headed by Drs. Wolever and Jenkins, has experienced a flurry of activity in recent years. “Since our company began in 1997 and expanded in 2004, we have seen a steady increase in interest in our testing services,” said Dr. Jenkins, who serves as the company’s director of research. “The interest is coming from all areas of the food and beverage industry - everyone from large multi-national companies, to small niche manufacturers.”
Putting Finished Products to the Test
Although there are established GIs for many foods, it is not possible to estimate the glycemic index of a food from the ingredients used to formulate it, explained Dr. Jenkins. “Many factors influence the GI of a carbohydrate containing food, including fiber, nature of the starch, particle size, processing, preparation etc. The only way to accurately assess the resulting GI is through in vivo testing—that is, clinical testing in humans—of the final product as intended for consumption,” she said.
Glycemic Index Laboratories recently conducted the clinical research necessary to measure the GI of Syzmo (pictured here)—a USDA certified organic energy beverage from Hillside, NJ-based Integrated BioPharma, Inc.’s wholly owned subsidiary, The Organic Beverage Company. It is the first carbonated beverage line to be certified as “Glycemic Index Tested.”
The clinical study on Syzmo’s GI yielded a rating of 30, which is categorized as a “Low GI” rating. Beverages that are sweetened with glucose, high fructose corn syrup, granulated sugars or other natural sweeteners generally would not qualify as Low GI rated products.
Dr. Jenkins said her company’s results were independently evaluated by Glycemic Index Ltd., a not for profit organization composed of the University of Sydney, Diabetes Australia and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation of Australia, which runs the glycemic index symbol program. “After assessment of the data they licensed the company to bear the GI symbol on the energy drinks label,” she said. In addition to the GI symbol, Syzmo will also display the GI rating along with an explanation of the Glycemic Index rating.
Syzmo is one of many products in the GI testing pipeline. Looking long term, Dr. Jenkins says she expects an increased interest in lower GI products because research has indicated that foods that assist in the stabilization of blood sugar levels are “significantly appealing” to U.S. shoppers. “Packaged Facts recently issued a report in which it predicted that U.S. retail sales of ‘Low-Glycemic’ products would grow from $350 million in 2006 to $1.8 billion by 2011 (and) recent research in the U.S., commissioned by National Starch Food Innovation (2005), found that 66% of shoppers surveyed agreed that foods that help to maintain healthy blood sugar levels are important (27%), very important (20%), or extremely important (19%) to them,” she said.
She also pointed out that as the American population matures, more consumers are demanding their food to do more for them beyond simply providing sustenance. “Consumers are understanding…that the food choices they make for themselves and their families today can have serious implications on their long-term health,” she said. “Including lower GI foods in day-to-day eating patterns has been associated with a reduction in the incidence of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers. We expect consumer understanding and adoption of the GI to continue to climb. And the food and beverage industry will meet that demand with more healthful, low GI choices.”