Palatino... what? The name of this new type of sugar may be a tongue twister, but its benefits are certainly worth remembering.
I'm always amazed at the ingenuity of food technologists who come up with the most fascinating food ingredients.
One that caught my attention recently is called "palatinose" or "isomaltulose" – a disaccharide that is made up of glucose and fructose. The interesting name is a derivative of the Palatinate region of Germany where it's produced by a company called Südzucker AG.
Palatinose is manufactured from beet sugar. The scientists who developed it rearranged the chemical bond between the glucose and fructose molecules in beet sugar to form this new compound.
This new food ingredient isn't as sweet as sugar, but has a pleasant taste and can be used in foods to replace table sugar. It also has a couple of other noteworthy benefits.
Added bonus: low GI
Because the chemical bond between the glucose and fructose molecules in palatinose is so strong, the human body can't easily break it down. This is why palatinose has special properties such as a low glycaemic index of 32.
Consequently, palatinose is digested very slowly and glucose is released into the bloodstream in small quantities that don't cause excessive insulin peaks.
Palatinose is therefore an ideal ingredient to use in foods intended for people who suffer from insulin resistance, the metabolic syndrome, hypoglycaemia and diabetes.
Readily available energy
Carbohydrates are our best source of energy for physical activity.
Sportsmen and women require good sources of readily available energy to fuel their intense activity, particularly after the glycogen stores in the liver and muscles have been depleted.
Studies with palatinose have shown that the slow release of glucose can benefit endurance athletes who need a sustained source of energy for long periods.
Increased fat oxidation
Researchers have been searching for compounds that can increase fat oxidation (fat burning) for decades.
It's well known that the fat stores in the human body are a potential source of mega-amounts of energy. For example, an adult man of normal weight can store up to 100 000 kilocalories of energy in the form of fat. This is enough energy to allow a male athlete to run 30 marathons.
The problem with our fat storage depots is that this bountiful energy supply is difficult to access and, in contrast to carbohydrates that are “immediately” available for physical exertion, fat energy isn't readily available – hence the endeavours of scientists to try and find methods of increasing fat metabolism.
Prof Asker Jeukendrup of the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences at the University of Birmingham, UK, has pointed out that endurance athletes have a better fat-oxidation or fat-burning capacity than overweight individuals and people who have insulin resistance and diabetes (Food Review, 2009).
According to Prof Jeukendrup, “the ability to effectively burn fat is of value both for endurance and for health”.
Needless to say, any food or compound that has the potential to increase our fat-burning capacity would be welcomed by athletes and anyone with weight or insulin problems.
Insulin is known to inhibit fat metabolism and increase fat storage. Low-GI carbohydrates, which don't overstimulate insulin, have the added advantage that they encourage the human body to use stored fat. This is one of the reasons why low-GI diets lead to weight loss.
Most low-GI carbohydrates are not, however, sources of readily available carbohydrate because they usually have a high dietary fibre content. Palatinose on the other hand is a low-GI compound that still releases enough energy in the form of glucose to sustain physical activity over long periods.
A number of studies has shown that palatinose is capable of increasing the amount of energy released from fat when used by athletes and physically active persons (Food Review, 2009). This is excellent news: on the one hand it means that palatinose can be used in sports drinks and foods to assist athletes to draw on their fat energy reserves; on the other hand it can help overweight people burn fat more effectively.
Uses of palatinose
Because palatinose “is the only carbohydrate to provide a sustained supply of energy in the form of glucose while at the same time promoting fat oxidation” (Food Review, 2009), it is intended for use in sports drinks and foods, as well as special foods for slimming purposes and for use in low-GI diets.
Potential users of palatinose include athletes, anyone who wants to improve his or her fat-burning capacity, slimmers and patients with insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and hypoglycaemia.
According to the article published on the Food Review website, palatinose is already available in many parts of the world in the form of sports products. Examples include Multi Carbo Gel manufactured by Atlantic Multipower in Italy, Rosbacher Drive manufactured by Hassia in Germany, and the Gatorade Performance Series in the USA.
To check if a product you have purchased contains palatinose, look on the label for the words "isomaltulose" or "palatinose".
Hopefully, South African food manufacturers will also provide a whole range of new food products containing palatinose for our athletes and patients with insulin problems.
Moderation is key
Because palatinose isn't a fermentable sugar, it shouldn't cause the same abdominal discomfort that characterises many other low-GI carbohydrates, and consumers should be able to use products containing palatinose without bloating.
However, people who intend using palatinose products to lose weight should keep in mind that the positive characteristics of this compound don't give you carte blanche to eat vast quantities of such foods with a total disregard to your energy intake.
Even if a food contains palatinose, which will increase fat oxidation and promote weight loss, you'll not be able to eat unlimited quantities of these products. Sticking to moderate intakes, while keeping track of your total daily energy intake, is important if you want to lose weight successfully.
(Dr Ingrid van Heerden, DietDoc, June 2009)
(Food Review, 2009. Healthy ‘fuel’ for the body. Food Review, April, 2009, pp. 40-42. See also http://foodreview.imix.co.za/)