News Service


Rick Sharp, Health and Human Performance, (515) 294-8650
John Robyt, Biochemistry and Biophysics, (515) 294-1964
Murray Kaplan, Food Science and Human Nutrition, (515) 294- 9304
Steve Jones, News Service, (515) 294-4778


AMES, Iowa -- A new modified corn starch developed at Iowa State University could prevent problems associated with digesting sugar.

The new starch can replace sugar as a carbohydrate source in many solid and liquid foods, leading to more sustained blood sugar and insulin levels. The starch is flavorless, highly digestible and water soluble, which allows its use in liquids.

"Sugars are widely used in liquid foods because they're the only soluble carbohydrate," said Rick Sharp, professor of health and human performance who led the research project.

Too much sugar, however, can have health drawbacks. High blood sugar levels increase the production of insulin. Too much insulin in the blood results in short-lived energy levels, increases fat storage and cholesterol, and leads to the loss of valuable minerals from the body. Low blood sugar levels also are detrimental. They can result in fatigue, dizziness, headaches and loss of coordination.

John Robyt, professor of biochemistry and biophysics, invented the modification of the starch, and Sharp found that it could be used for the slow release of glucose into the blood. Research by Sharp and Murry Kaplan, professor of food science and human nutrition, has shown further the potential use of the starch as a food supplement. Research has been under way since 1991.

The starch, which was patented in December, is modified through a process using alcohol and hydrochloric acid.

The modified starch has potential for use in several food products, including sport and diet drinks, liquid nutritional supplements and infant formulas. Some sugar, or artificial sweetener, will most likely remain in these products simply to sweeten the taste. However, Sharp said research has documented Americans consume too much sugar.

"If one can replace sugar with a carbohydrate that better modulates the insulin response, we expect that in the long term, better health will result," Sharp said.

One possible market for the modified starch is a carbohydrate supplement for persons who exercise. Unlike currently available carbohydrate supplements, modified starch can be consumed for extra energy immediately before exercise. Current supplements are not recommended one to two hours prior to heavy workouts.

The starch holds particular potential for regulating insulin in people with diabetes, Sharp added. By ingesting modified starch, either as a snack food or as a liquid, before going to bed, the diabetic may be able to sustain normal blood sugar levels throughout the night. Diabetics sometimes must disrupt their sleep to eat to drink something.

"Modified starch ingested during the daytime also may help people with diabetes improve the daily regulation of their blood glucose and reduce their reliance on frequent snacking and insulin injections," Sharp added.

The starch also could give a boost to newborns -- and their tired parents. Its slow-releasing characteristic means, if substituted for sugar in infant formula, the starch could sustain a baby's blood sugar level longer. The baby may go longer between feedings.

Funding for the research came from U.S. Department of Agriculture Cooperative State Research Service and ISU's Center for Designing Foods to Improve Nutrition.


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