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Economics Professor Looking For People To Share Blood Sugar Impact Of Foods Data For Investigation

Posted Oct 21 2009 10:04pm

Washington State Economics Professor Dr. Trent G. Smith

Because of the quality content about diet, health, and low-carb living that I provide at my blog and podcast show, I have been blessed to have quite an eclectic and highly-educated group of people who follow my work. And interestingly enough, some of them are interested in aspects of obesity and disease that go outside the realm of nutrition and medicine. Today I’d like to share about one of these readers and invite you to participate in an investigation he is conducting on the topic of the glycemic impact of consuming certain foods.

His name is Trent G. Smith, Ph.D. and he is an assistant professor of economic sciences at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington. Dr. Smith recently wrote to me after reading my blog interview with Good Calories, Bad Calories author Gary Taubes (and listen to my podcast interview with Taubes here , here , and here ) and he wanted to share with me about a lecture he recently posted about this whole issue of blood sugar, insulin, and the connection certain foods have on them. It may seem odd to think an economics professor would care about such things, but there are certainly economic consequences to making poor dietary choices and especially when those choices are heavily promoted as “healthy” by governmental and nutritional health authorities.

I’d like to point you to Dr. Smith’s lecture entitled “Lunch Science: A Personal Dietary Investigation” (keep in mind this is a very large file, but WELL worth the time to download) where he quotes Taubes discussing the negative impact of refined carbohydrates on blood sugar and insulin. He thoroughly explains the blood sugar/insulin connection focusing in on the glycemic index of foods for determining their effect on the body. From the economics perspective, Dr. Smith adds that most high-GI foods are very inexpensive which is why the marketplace is flooded with them. He adds that since food marketers of these high-GI foods don’t want the consumer to know about their deleterious effects, they get away with producing products that aren’t exactly the best.

Since food companies have been unwilling to discuss the glycemic effect of eating certain foods, Dr. Smith believes consumers need to test for themselves how their blood sugar responds through the use of inexpensive blood glucose monitors. By personally measuring his own results after eating a variety of foods, he graphed his blood sugar response after consuming fruit and carrots, beans, buttered bread, macaroni & cheese, beer and brats, vending machine junk food, a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder meal, Jack In The Box meal, a hamburger without the bun and eggs, 6 hamburger buns, ice cream, Pizza Hut, and a Subway low-fat meal. He simply asks, “Which will cause biggest ’spike’ in blood sugar?”

Interestingly, Pizza Hut spiked his blood sugar the most, but guess what came in second place? It was a shocker…Subway low-fat! So despite all the best efforts by the clever marketing team at the popular national sandwich chain, all that bread they are serving people in the name of health is actually doing more harm than good. Oh, guess which meal had the lowest effect on blood sugar (do I even need to tell you?). Of course it was the burger and eggs meal that was the lowest in total carbohydrates.

Last year I started experimenting with measuring my blood sugar to see what would happen and it netted some very peculiar results for me. Now Dr. Smith wants you to join him in this fun yet revealing social experiment on blood sugar. He says there isn’t any good solid data out there on the glycemic effects of eating full meals or even specific brand name foods. Would you like to help him gather this information on yourself and share your results with Dr. Smith? He believes a “decentralized investigation” of this phenomena will “generate more insights than would a single, focused study.”

Note that measures should be taken in half-hour increments (i.e. 30 minutes, 1 hour, 1 1/2 hours, 2 hours, 2 1/2 hours, 3 hours, 3 1/2 hours, 4 hours, 4 1/2 hours, 5 hours) after consuming the food you are measuring. Blood glucose monitors can be purchased inexpensively at your local drugstore or Wal-Mart, so how about helping out this economics professor collect some useful data for his investigation? E-mail Dr. Trenton Smith your results at

I was slightly amused by Dr. Smith’s “tentative observations” based on his own personal results after doing this experiment:

- At best, standard 2-hour GI misses a lot.

He’s right. If you don’t measure what is going on at 30-, 60-, and 90-minute intervals, then you’re not really finding out what’s going on with your blood sugar after a given meal. That’s the point of checking it, so don’t miss this critical data.

- Fast food is hard to beat if you’re looking for a (blood) sugar high.

Amen to that! We seen in studies that fast food makes you fatter and it’s because of all the insulin your body produces in response to consuming it.

- Be skeptical of health claims.

ALWAYS be very skeptical of any health claims. At Subway, you may “eat fresh,” but that doesn’t mean you’re eating healthy. Be smart about what you put in your mouth and the ramifications of knowingly consuming foods that will spike blood sugar levels.

- Would the market outcome be different if information about glycemic effects were more widely available?

I still don’t think the American public gets the glycemic index yet, so I’m not sure what the result would be in providing this information. I do wish food manufacturers were REQUIRED to put the fat, protein, and carb content of their food products on the FRONT of the packaging in big bold letters. Yes, it is on the back but seeing it there up close and personal may give people pause.

Let’s help Dr. Smith continue his fascinating investigation!

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