New technique for testing glucose levels in food to support fight against diabetes

SINGAPORE – A new technique for testing food known as the Glycaemic Index Speed Test (Gist) could make the process of developing healthier food products cheaper and faster.

The laboratory-based test determines a food’s glycaemic index (GI), a measure of its impact on a person’s blood sugar levels, using simulated digestion.

It can deliver results in one to two weeks at a cost of about $800 and was developed by the Food Innovation and Resource Centre (FIRC) at Singapore Polytechnic.

The conventional method of measuring GI used by the food manufacturing industry, which involves selecting volunteers and testing their blood, takes three to six months and costs about $3,000, said FIRC’s senior manager Ken Lee.

“If the company is lucky, they may only have to go through three rounds of formulation and tests, which will take about 15 months and a minimum of $9,000. But many companies often undergo many rounds of reformulation,” said Dr Lee.

With Gist, companies can save 73 per cent in costs and the whole process can be shortened from years to months, he added.

He was speaking at the FIRC during a visit by foreign delegates, ending off the two-day Ministerial Conference on Diabetes on Tuesday (Nov 27).

Gist was one of several innovations used to support the “war on diabetes” in Singapore that were introduced to the delegates.

The delegates also visited the new Ang Mo Kio Polyclinic and toured its premises as well as its self-registration system, the eye and foot tests used in diabetes screening, and its automated medicine dispensing system.

The delegates included Dr Yasuhiro Suzuki, Japanese Vice-Minister for Health; Professor Li Xinhua, deputy director-general of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention; Dr Mohammed Yahya Al-Harbi, head of the Central Committee for Diabetes Management inSaudi Arabia; and Dr Saia Ma’u Piukala, Minister for Health and Public Enterprises in the Kingdom of Tonga.

They were accompanied by Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor and Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Amrin Amin.

The delegates were invited to sample a new low-GI noodle created using Gist in the form of mee rebus.

Dr Lee said that under the conventional process, the noodle would likely be ready only by June next year.

Since February this year, Gist has been used in 17 projects, including a low-GI sugar product known as Nucane, which is produced by Singapore-based food science company Nutrition Innovation.

Its chief executive Matthew Godfrey said: “Natural cane sugar is full of antioxidants that are usually washed out in the refining process. If you leave them in, about 20 per cent less glucose goes into the bloodstream.”

The company uses infrared scanning technology to check the composition of its sugar and uses Gist to test its quality.

Besides Singapore, Nucane products have been launched in Australia, Brazil and Malaysia.

“We view the FIRC as a key centre of excellence and expertise to help us combat diabetes and obesity in Singapore and around the world,” said Mr Godfrey.

Dr Suzuki was impressed, calling the creation of low-GI sugar “amazing” and said Japan could look into adopting it as well.

“I don’t think we have this type of product in Japan. We would love to work with the company and with the FIRC,” he said.

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