Food researchers at Lund University in Sweden have discovered that consuming small amounts of chromium mixed with certain amino acids before eating is healthy. Why? Well, this mixture diluted in water suppresses the blood sugar spike that occurs when we eat. Now, they are hoping that the drink - which tastes like ordinary mineral water - will be able to compete with soft drinks and flavoured waters.
Excessive blood sugar fluctuation is taxing on the body, and can trigger low-grade inflammation. In the long term, it increases the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
"It matters not only what we eat, but also the order in which we eat it. It is about kick starting our system in the right way", says Elin Östman, associate professor at Lund University in Sweden.
In her research, she and a few of her colleagues have discovered that if healthy adults, before eating, drink a glass of water with just under three grams of five specific amino acids from milk proteins mixed with the chromium mineral, the subsequent blood sugar spike that occurs when eating is decreased by a quarter.
A study of two groups in the US and Canada recently confirmed that the blood sugar-lowering effect is around 25 per cent. (Some of the previous research findings were published earlier this year in Functional Foods in Health and Disease.)
There are other ways to suppress the increase in blood sugar that occurs when we eat carbohydrates. In previous studies, Elin Östman found that both vinegar and whey have this effect. Other researchers have also noted that proteins may have a blood sugar-lowering effect; however, most of these studies were performed on patients with type 2 diabetes. Dietary supplements containing various combinations of amino acids are often used by those who weight train, with the specific purpose of stimulating muscle growth.
"In our case, it’s the smart combination of the five specific amino acids, in low doses, along with chromium, that is new. We have several studies that support these findings, something that other dietary supplements not always have. We are targeting ordinary people who want to improve their lifestyle", Elin Östman explains.
The particularly beneficial effect of milk proteins was discovered by the Lund University researchers by coincidence when they studied milk almost 20 years ago.
"Milk is a complex product because it generates a high insulin response but a low blood sugar increase. This inconcistency surprised us", says Elin Östman.
As much as you want to conserve your blood sugar, you also want to lower your insulin increase. These often go hand-in-hand, but not always. Milk is an example of when this is not the case.
When the researchers continued their studies, they discovered that it was the whey that gave the insulin secretion a real boost. The explanation, as it turned out, was that whey proteins stimulate the insulin-stimulating hormone, GLP-1, which causes the pancreas to not have to work so hard to respond to the blood sugar increase but can work more efficiently.
The researchers decided to imitate the amino acid composition in whey so that we benefit only from the first insulin release - without raising the entire insulin curve.
"We then tried to mix chromium with the amino acids. Chromium has for long proven to play a role in blood sugar regulation, although we still don’t know exactly how" , says Elin Östman.
It resulted in two parallel effects that reinforced one another, explains Elin Östman.
"We were able to see that the amino acids helped stimulate early insulin release while the chromium contributed to the insulin’s increased efficiency. We also learned that the mixture is most effective when a part of it is drunk before the meal."
As previously mentioned, there are more ways to conserve your blood sugar, for example, by eating a piece of bread dipped in vinegar, or drinking vinegar mixed with water, before a meal. The more vinegar, the better the effect.
"But not everyone enjoys sour water, and, in any case, I think that we need more smart foods that can help people avoid unhealthy options such as sweetened beverages. Our drink is another alternative", concludes Elin Östman.
Three ways to help lower the body’s blood sugar level when you eat:
Elin Östman’s research shows that different food components affect different parts of the digestive system:
- Vinegar, or rather acetic acid, slows down the pace in which the stomach empties its content, which means that the carbohydrates are absorbed with delay, while...
- lactic acid, found, for example, in sourdough bread, makes it more difficult for the enzymes in the small intestine to access the starch and break it down into glucose which is absorbed into the bloodstream.
- Certain amino acids operate in a third way, by stimulating the insulin-producing cells and helping to prepare the body for receiving a portion of carbohydrates.
With this knowledge, it is possible to customise smart foods and meals that work together to maintain a blood sugar balance.
The research on amino acids and chromium has resulted in a couple of patents owned by the researchers and are licensed by Double Good AB. Most of the studies were conducted in collaboration with Aventure AB within the context of the Antidiabetic Food Centre at Lund University. The US/Canadian study was conducted by Double Good AB.
Two doctoral theses produced within the research team:
Mikael Nilsson: Insulinogenic effects of milkand other dietary proteins - Mechanisms and metabolic implications , 2006
Ulrika Gunnerud: Metabolic impact of certain dietary proteins and/or amino acids - Glycaemic and hormonal responses to carbohydrate meals in healthy subject , 2013