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Fast-Food Fat Buster May Drop Diabetes Risk

Additive Could Help Avoid Type 2 Diabetes -- but Not Cut Calories
WebMD Health News

Fast-food restaurants of the future may have a new menu item: an additive that lets people eat fare high in saturated fat without raising their risk of type 2 diabetes.

"It could be formulated into something like a cheese slice," says Wallace Yokoyama, PhD, a research chemist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Or, the additive -- called HPMC (hydroxypropylmethylcellulose) -- could become an ingredient in home cooking. "I don't see why not," Yokoyama tells WebMD.

So far, HPMC has helped hamsters avoid blood sugar problems on a diet high in saturated fat. That's the type of fat found in animal products -- and on the plates (and arteries) of many Americans. The major culprits of saturated fats for U.S. adults are cheese, beef, milk, and bakery items.

Human trials haven't been done yet. Yokoyama tells WebMD he hopes those will happen in the next couple of years. Meanwhile, he suggests eating a healthy diet -- and takes his own advice. Yokoyama's lunch yesterday was tuna niçoise salad, not a super-sized burger with fries.

Calories Still Count

Even if HPMC's human tests succeed, it won't be a green light to chow down on fatty foods, Yokoyama cautions. HPMC doesn't shave any calories off foods.

"It's not going to prevent weight gain, but it does seem to prevent insulin resistance," Yokoyama tells WebMD. "We still recommend moderate intake of calories and moderate exercise."

Insulin resistance shows that the body's ability to handle blood sugar is slipping. The problem can lead to type 2 diabetes, which has been rising in the U.S.

What Is HPMC?

HPMC is an indigestible form of fiber made from cellulose. You may have already unwittingly sampled it in tiny amounts.

HPMC has been used in many food products for 50 years. It's added to fillings, sauces, and glazes. With no taste or odor, HPMC lends texture without drawing attention to itself, says a news release from the American Chemical Society, a scientists' organization.

No negative side effects have been seen from HPMC, says Yokoyama. "We know from another study a couple of years ago that it passes through the digestive system and is excreted intact," he tells WebMD.

Currently, HPMC accounts for less than 1% of the total ingredients in foods containing the additive. It would probably take more than that to avoid insulin resistance, according to the news release.

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