Called HPMC (hydroxypropylmethylcellulose), the cellulose-derivative has been used for half-a-century as an additive in many foods and drugs, mostly to provide texture, but the researchers believe this is the first study to demonstrate its potential as a functional food ingredient. HPMC, which is tasteless and odorless, could one day be added to hamburgers, pizza, hot dogs and other high-fat foods as a novel line of defense against diabetes, which is on the rise in this country, the researchers say.
If the findings prove true in human studies, it could benefit young people, who tend to be frequent consumers of high-fat fast-foods. Although HPMC isn't likely to prevent obesity, the compound may reduce the chances that obese people will develop diabetes and its deadly complications, particularly heart disease, the researchers note. This study was funded by the USDA.
"Obviously, the less fat you eat, the better off you are. But if you're going to eat high fat foods, then adding HPMC to it might help limit the damage," says Wallace H. Yokoyama, Ph.D., a research chemist with USDA's Agricultural Research Service in Albany, Calif. "In our studies with hamsters, adding HPMC to the animals' high-fat diet prevented development of insulin resistance."
The compound could actually make its way into food products as a functional food additive within one to two years, he estimates. Human studies are antic