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Compound Could Lessen Damage of Fast Food

Researchers test form of cellulose that slows fat absorption, reduces diabetes risk

WEDNESDAY, March 16, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers report that a form of soluble cellulose, when added to fast foods famous for their high-fat content, slows down absorption of fat molecules, at least in animals.

If it proves effective in human studies, the compound could reduce the likelihood of developing insulin resistance, which can lead to type 2 diabetes, said study co-author Wallace H. Yokoyama, a research chemist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, in Albany, Calif.

However, the compound won't keep those who love cheeseburgers and french fries from packing on pounds because of their bad eating habits.

The compound "will prevent insulin resistance, but not weight gain," Yokoyama stressed. The finding was presented March 15 at the American Chemical Society annual meeting in San Diego.

Called hydroxypropylmethylcellulose (HPMC), the compound is already used in many foods and drugs to provide texture, but Yokoyama and his colleagues believe theirs is the first study to look at HPMC as a functional food ingredient.

In the study, conducted only in animals, Yokoyama's team fed one group of hamsters a high-fat diet, with about 38 percent of total calories derived from fat (similar to the fat content of the typical American fast-food diet), while another group ate a low-fat diet, with 11 percent of calories from fat. Those fed the high-fat diet over the four-week study developed insulin resistance, while those fed the low-fat diet did not.

The researchers then substituted HPMC for the insoluble fiber normally found in high-fat diets, and fed that to another group of animals that were put on the high-fat diet. Those animals did not develop insulin resistance.

"Only the animals eating the high-fat diet with insoluble fiber got insulin resistance," Yokoyama said. "We think it's because nutrients, including fat, are metered into the body more slowly if they are combined with soluble cellulose."

High-fat intake leads to insulin resistance, Yokoyama explained, because saturated fat cuts down the amount of protein that carries glucose into cells. "So, once that happens and the body sees a buildup of glucose in the bloodstream, it causes insulin to increase."

The idea is to add HPMC to fast-food fare such as cheeseburgers and fries. That could happen in just a couple years, Yokoyama added.

"It's interesting research," said Dr. Nathaniel G. Clark, national vice president of the American Diabetes Association. But he worries that it will send the wrong message.

He's afraid people will hear: "We'll manipulate your diet so you can eat the foods we know aren't good for you when eaten in a large quantity on a regular basis," Clark said.

"High-fat foods have a multitude of effects and they are focusing on one, the insulin-resistance problem," Clark added. "What about the risk of heart disease? Obesity?"

More information

To learn more about fat and its role in a healthy diet, visit the American Dietetic Association.

SOURCES: Nathaniel G. Clark, M.D., national vice president, American Diabetes Association, Alexandria, Va.; Wallace H. Yokoyama, Ph.D., research chemist, U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, Albany, Calif.; March 15, 2005, presentation, American Chemical Society annual meeting, San Diego
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