Updated: Jun 9, 2021
Blended excerpts from Potential Within A Guide to Nutritional Empowerment Authored by Franco Cavaleri ISBN 0-9731701-0-7
Original post: September 6, 2011
This article is composed of multiple excerpts to result in tone and content shifts and reference numbering that may be out order.
Glycerine/glycerin is another factor rarely recognized as a contributor to the glycemic index of food and, just like maltodextrin, it has made it into the nutraceutical industry in a big way. Ironically the increased use of glycerine or glycerol is in response to consumer demand for low-carbohydrate supplements.
The call for low-carbohydrate supplements is justified in that the abundance of processed, high-glycemic-index foods is now recognized as a major cause of the common North American diseases. However, glycerine in place of carbohydrates isn’t the solution, and those of you who are buying the low-carbohydrate claims for nutritional bars are literally eating up the glycemic blast from glycerine. The nutritional-bar industry is most guilty of this shell game that replaces carbohydrates with glycerine.
To produce a low-carbohydrate bar that’s palatable and maintains a viable shelf life, glycerine must be included in the formulation, and usually the lower the carbohydrate content, the higher the glycerine level. A bar, for example, that has a higher protein level (the more recent protein bars in the health industry) tends to become hard and lose flavor in a shorter period of time than a bar with a lower protein content and a higher carbohydrate count. The typical high-protein, low-carbohydrate bar has a shorter shelf life, which presents a high risk of profit loss for manufacturers.
Glycerine, however, tends to bolster the moisture content of a nutritional bar while contributing to its sweetness. As much as 60% as sweet as cane sugar, glycerine has an energy or calorie potential almost 20% greater than a carbohydrate—4.57 versus 3.87 calories per gram respectively.
A bar can contain more than 20 g of glycerine that might not ever make it into the carbohydrate calorie count of the product. However, glycerine will become a factor in the carbohydrate load and calorie deposition of your body. A bar that claims to have 160 calories but fails to disclose its glycerine content in the macronutrient profile is hiding an extra 100 calories!
The essence of this shell game is that glycerine is difficult to categorize as a macronutrient (fats, carbohydrates, proteins). Glycerine isn’t a typical carbohydrate, it’s not a fat, and it’s not a protein. It’s actually one component of the triacylglyceride (fat) molecule. In Canada and the United States, glycerine probably hasn’t shown up in any of the macronutrient categories of the nutrition information on the wrappers of many nutritional bars, since Health Canada has only just recently forced manufacturers to include it in the carbohydrate listing.
In the past, manufacturers could label a bar with a carbohydrate content of 4 g and even 2 g and include a healthy dose of protein as high as 30 g per bar, but the 20 g or more of glycerine never made it into the count. If you’re wondering why you can’t shed those last few pounds, this might be the reason. The carbohydrate content is more likely to be 20 to 30 g per bar. Maltitol and xylitol are similar alcohol-sugars often included in such formulations to add palatability, but they, too, aren’t included in the final carbohydrate value of the nutritional information. Bars with this sort of misleading labeling are still found in Canada and the United States as the governments try to phase them out. Keep in mind that glycerine adds to the glycemic potential of a food as well as to the carbohydrate count. The confusion arises because of the delayed increase in blood sugar caused by glycerine consumption, a characteristic of low-glycemic-index sugars.
However, the load into the bloodstream accumulates rapidly later and the body eventually has to deal with it. Professionals are reluctant to assign a glycemic-index value to glycerine for this reason. Make a note of the ingredients list of your favorite bar. Glycerine frequently has the highest concentration. It’s usually the first thing on the list because each ingredient must be noted in descending order of concentration.
However, the common trick used by manufacturers to deliver a different perception is to bundle up the protein sources such as casein, egg albumin, soy, and whey as one general category. When all of these protein sources are gathered together and placed in parentheses, they amount to a quantity greater than that of glycerine in the formulation. A term such as ProGen, used to name the blend of different protein sources in the nutritional information of a bar, is a made-up name that manufacturers often apply to suggest proprietary differentiation of their products. It doesn’t have much meaning and is simply a marketing ploy to fool us into thinking a given manufacturer’s protein source is special. Such a ruse is also a good way to push the protein category to the front of the ingredient list so that we think protein is the prevalent component. This might be the case when protein is combined into one category, but that doesn’t change the fact that glycerine, a carbohydrate-like ingredient, is probably the ingredient with the highest concentration.
For example, here are the ingredients of a typical nutritional bar on the market: ProGen (casein, egg albumin, gelatin, soy protein isolate, whey protein isolate), glycerine, water, maltitol. If each of these protein ingredients were to be itemized according to their individual concentration level, they’d be scattered throughout the list. Glycerine would likely edge any one of these out with ease for first place. The ingredient list might look something like the following if it were designed correctly: glycerine, casein, fructose, egg albumin, gelatin, sorbitol, milk fat, soy lecithin, maltodextrin, soy protein isolate, natural and artificial flavors, water, whey protein isolate, maltitol.
Whey protein would likely be way down the list for two reasons: its cost and the fact that too much whey in the formulation of bars usually reduces shelf life, softness, and palatability. Obviously the second version of the bar’s ingredients is less appealing. However, it’s the same bar except that the second list is the real reflection of the bar’s ingredients in order of concentration. Manufacturers of powdered protein supplements play this same ingredient-shuffle game. Glycerine is a reasonable sweetener to employ if you want to hide the carbohydrate level of a protein powder. As soon as you see parentheses in the ingredient descriptions, assume the side-step shuffle has taken place.
Manufacturers don’t normally warn that glycerine is not necessarily diabetic-friendly. Diabetics, unknowingly, consume these low-carbohydrate bars as do people who have chosen to limit the glycemic-index status and carbohydrates of their diet in an attempt to avoid the progression of insulin resistance, diabetes, weight gain, cardiovascular disease, inflammation, and other common ailments. The glycerine load makes the healthy goal more difficult to achieve, especially if the body has to face it regularly while disease is active. If glucose intolerance is a problem, glycerine loading isn’t a great idea. Although studies show the sugar load into the bloodstream from oral glycerine to be delayed from the time of consumption, don’t be fooled; it eventually contributes to blood sugar.
A very interesting study performed at Pantox Laboratories, San Diego, California, and reported in 2001 confirms just how glycerol is utilized in the body. The objective of this innovative group was to develop a strategy to promote a hypoglycemic state in the body that would cause cancer to starve. Most types of cancer can’t survive in a hypoglycemic host, and since most tissues of the body can make normal use of glycerol and many cancers can’t, glycerol might provide the perfect fuel to support the body during starvation of the disease. However, even after blocking the liver’s ability to convert glycerol into glucose, it was found that other specialized enzymes in peripheral tissues of the body could also transform glycerol into glucose for their own use, thus contributing this production to blood sugar, as well.
Glycerine loading before exercise can sustain performance in many ways, but only if insulin activity is healthy. Glycerol or glycerine supplementation is a good way to hydrate and glycogen-load muscles. Endurance athletes, especially, will experience great results from these loading strategies, maintaining hydration and glycogen for better performance potential. But most important, the delayed gluconeogenic activity (production of glucose) induced by the oral load of glycerine delivers its energy source some time well into the physical activity when energy stores become depleted.
Many studies such as the one performed by Montner, et al, at the Department of Medicine, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Albuquerque, New Mexico, verify that glycerol consumption (1.2 g per kilogram of body weight) prior to………