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Green tea could help stop sugar spikes from starches

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Green tea might help sugar spikes from eating starches finds Penn State study.

Preventing spikes in blood sugar levels is important for controlling risk factors for metabolic syndrome. Starchy foods that turn to sugar can contribute to insulin resistance, diabetes and a variety of other disease. Researchers suggest drinking green tea with your morning bagel might help protect against blood sugar increases.

Why sugar spikes matter

Glucose level surges that can happen after meals make the pancreas work harder to produce insulin. Over time, insulin resistance develops, increasing the risk for metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes .

Sitting at your desk and snacking on a simple carbohydrate pretzel (white flour), cookie or snack cake can make things worse. A recent study showed when we sit for just 40 minutes without activity our risk of diabetes from metabolic syndrome increases.

For the study, Emma Wilmot of the University of Leicester, UK and colleagues analyzed results of 18 studies that included 794, 577 participants. The study found people who sit for long periods have twice the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and premature death compared to people who remain active throughout the day.

Sitting seems to have an adverse effect on how we metabolize glucose, Wilmot explained in a heartwire interview. Studies show that people who walk slowly after eating a meal have 24% lower glucose levels compared to those that sit.

How the study was done

Researchers separated mice into several groups based on body weight. The mice were given common corn starch, maltose, or sucrose after a period of fasting.

One group of mice received EGCG - epigallocatechin gallate – in addition to regular feed. Another group did not receive the compound that is found in green tea and has powerful antioxidant capacities.

The amount of the green tea compound given to the mice was the equivalent of 1 ½ cups of green tea for humans,

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Green tea was most effective for curbing sugar spikes in mice when it was given with corn starch.

About starch

Starch is a carbohydrate commonly found in foods including potatoes,, corn and bread. It is also used in processed foods to thicken sugar.

Not all starchy foods are bad. Some are released into the body more slowly, such as whole grain products and whole meal breads. It’s important to consume carbohydrates for energy, but the typical American diet is laden with starches that rapidly break down into sugar.

Joshua Lambert, assistant professor of food science in agricultural sciences at Penn State said in a press release, "If what you are eating with your tea has starch in it then you might see that beneficial effect, So, for example, if you have green tea with your bagel for breakfast, it may reduce the spike in blood glucose levels that you would normally get from that food."

But Lambert cautions if you add sugar to your tea you’re less likely to get the beneficial effect.

The researchers think EGCG in the beverage inhibits the breakdown of starchy foods into sugar because it reduces activity of the alpha-amylase enzyme produced in the mouth and pancreas.

The take home message

Lambert also adds it’s important to drink green tea at the same time you eat a starchy food and not afterwards to get the benefit. Dr. Lambert and his team are planning on studying the effects of EGCG in people next, based on the positive finding.

The new study showing green tea might help prevent sugar spikes is good news for anyone having difficulty changing their lifestyle and eating habits.

Molecular Nutrition & Food Research
November, 2012

Image credit: Morguefile