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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Can Using Chopsticks Prevent Diabetes?

Here's my examination of a story I saw first at OZY, written by Melissa Pandika and published on May 16, 2015... Original article HERE.

First off... if you look at the headline, No it can not. Secondly, if you look at the photo, it's not that type of chopsticks, though if you play it fast enough and often enough you might be able to expend a few calories. (Image from

For those of you too lazy to read the other article and then come back to read my review, I'll provide an overview within. 

Researches think that using chopsticks could affect your chances of developing diabetes... and seeing as how, after decades of sugary abuse I am now diabetic enough to require daily pills (not insulin needles), I tend to pay a bit more attention to such stuff (even weird stuff like this) ... not for myself, but to pass the warnings on to others. But is it weird?

As we age, our bodies ability to produce insulin can weaken. Ergo (I think I am using that word correctly), the more stress you put your body through to create insulin in your body throughout your life can have an outcome whereby your body no longer produces enough insulin to keep you healthy.

The signs were there for me for a while... I had elevated blood sugar levels five years ago, and switched from Coca-Cola to Coke Zero and saw decent results...

But, like I said, I was also getting older... and now I could no longer eat a 2-lb bag of peanut M&Ms as I used to like to pick up on the weekends at a bulk shop, without getting sleepy. That should have been clue enough, but it wasn't... not until I felt dizzy and tired all the time... and then holy crap, along with other signs my body was breaking down, I finally got tested again, and whoo, were those blood sugar levels high.

Being a sweet guy wasn't all it's cracked up to be. So... Metformin for me, twice a day... and a knowledge that I shouldn't overdo it with anything sweet.

So... my wake-up call involves meds - yours need not. Let it be a blog.

Ugh... don't make me run! I'm full of chocolate! Just watch the first 15 seconds...

But... it's not just candy and cola... there's the regular fruits and veggies we eat... things that turn sugary in our system as we digest them...

Anyhow, the article talks about how people who use chopsticks to eat their food, because of the way the implements are utilized, that only small chunks of food can make it into our mouth, which means that after chewing, will is easier to digest.

Results garnered by scientists at the National University of Singapore and the Clinical Nutrition Research Centre (Singapore, too) compared eaters who used chopsticks, hands and spoons when eating the same foods.

The results?

Chopstick users had a lower glycemic response. That means their blood sugar levels rose at a slower rate than the hand or spoon users.

The basic idea behind that is that those smaller bits of food capable of being picked up by chopsticks (and yes... I have actually picked up a steak with a pair and then gnawed off a large chunk of healthy red meat)... is that smaller foods are easier for the body to digest.

The end hypothesis is that since chopsticks users have slower glycemic rates, it actually means could have a reduced risk for Type 2 diabetes.

Crap... all I had to do was drink my Coca-Cola and at my M&Ms with chopsticks.

Like I said... it doesn't mean you can't develop diabetes, but it can help reduce the risk of you getting it... that's something worth noting... especially if there is a risk of developing diabetes thanks to a family history.

It is also a reduced risk for obesity and heart disease.

Granted this study was based on a very small sample size of a mere 11 eaters.

Over a three day period, a baseline glycemic level was taken from each via a blood sample.

Next, each was randomly chosen to eat a bowl of rice with a stated eating method (chopsticks, hands, spoon).

Thanks to electrodes hooked up to their cheeks (on their face), the researchers were able to measure the number of mouthfuls required to finish each bowl of rice, as well as how many chews they performed before swallowing each mouthful, and even how long it took each to complete a mouthful.

If you are like me, you probably do not chew (masticate) your food enough before swallowing.

I don't recall the exact number (I'm sure it varies), but it was something like 30 times of chewing per mouthful before swallowing.

I'm probably at around four... unless it's the wife's cooking, in which case I have to soften it up a bit more before choking it down. Kidding... she's a decent cook - and I'm gluttonous... which is why I am no longer as svelte as I appear in the photographs scattered throughout the entirety of this blog.

Anyhow, those researchers would then take blood samples again after the meal - over the next two hours  - all done via an annoying pin prick - to test each of the subject's glycemic levels.

According to the published results in the December Journal of Physiology & Behavior, chopsticks had a lower glycemic rate by about 13%.

You should note that there was no great difference between the glycemnic rates of chopsticks and fingers, or between fingers and spoons.

Wait... what? chopsticks and fingers - equal?
Fingers and spoons - equal?

If that's the case, ergo (and I think I am using that word incorrectly here) spoons should equal chopsticks... and all things should be equal.

So... I'm confused...

Maybe that's an error in the original article...

If anyone wants to read the original article (link above) and tell me what it is I am not seeing regarding the results above... I'm a political scientist (well.... on university paper anyway), not a physiology researcher. Okay... I'm just a curious guy with a blog asking questions and offering clarity... or in this case regretting ever starting this particular blog considering I'm not finding clarity.

Man... the number of times I read an article on-line and walk away with more questions than answers boggles the mind... it's an on-line article... so it's not like anyone needs to be worried about article length restrictions! That rowing across the Pacific article from a few days ago... not one article elsewhere on the 'Net mentioned when she was scheduled to depart Japan! Not one! I found it on the rower's personal website! Plus there were multiple versions of the rowboat's weight. It shouldn't need to be exact, but differences of 50 kilograms is a bit much.

And this one... presenting so-called facts but not questioning the results? I guess that's my job. The pay sucks at my job. I do this for free... though I'd rather do it for freebies.

Okay... rant over...

Now... chopsticks users' mouthfuls were about half (nearly 50%) of those eating with fingers or spoons.

They also took 30% fewer chews per mouthful than spoons and finger users.

To me that implies the chopstick users aren't chewing as much as they should: 50% less in the mouth, but only 30% less chewing. Shouldn't it be 50% less chewing?

In my mind it should, but the chopsticks users simply aren't chewing as much... I think it's all in the head... not much food in the mouth, therefore you think you need not chew a long time... and in this case, they aren't chewing as much as they should in direct proportion to what they put in their mouth via chopsticks.

The implication is that if they did, perhaps the body would not have to work as hard to digest the food.

So... in that case... it's not just how you eat your food, it's how you chew it that affects how your body digests the food. That is something to consider the next time you (I'm talking to you, Rob) grab a burger and take one big bite followed immediately by two little bites.

I've watched my friend Rob eat a burger many a time over the years. Always one big big two little bites.

I'm no proper biter either, but I mix up my bite routine.

I call the big one bitey. You Simpsons monorail fans know what I mean.

Anyhow... 11 people tested over three days. Not a large enough sample size.

Does it matter HOW fast one eats with their chopsticks, spoon or fingers - relative to digestion rates of turning foods into sugars? How much should one chew a mouthful of food before swallowing? Does the number of chews differ depending on the consistency of the food density—do you need to perform 28 chews on a banana bite and the same for a steak?

Did the size of the test consumer's hand matter? IE, larger hands could pinch together a larger finger full of rice to  shove into their gaping maw.  It should, shouldn't it?

Do different varieties of rice have differing glycemic levels - what about how it is cooked?

 Did the testees (testes) do anything but eat a bowl of rice three times a day? Did they sit and watch TV, or walk around, or perform business activities?

Does the time if day affect the way the body processes foods?

How big was the bowl of rice the test subjects had to eat? What if you took large mouthfuls of rice, but the bowl consisted of a mere three mouthfuls... would that affect the results against a bowl consisting of four large mouthfuls?

What is a mouthful? I have a bigger mouth than my friend Alice, and perhaps I have more dexterity in using chopsticks than her, but perhaps I chew my food longer (I don't. I have my own toilet bowl of evidence).

Men versus women? Does the sex matter? Yes it does to me, but I meant as far as test results?

Who knows? All I know is that apparently using chopsticks might have something to do with lowering your risk of developing diabetes... even if the evidence provided to support this concept seemed flawed in the OZY magazine article.

I like OZY and the brainy articles they provide. Like I said... maybe I missed something in the original OZY article... maybe the data does make sense... but maybe I also wanted more information, rather than just a teaser.

I hate half-assed answers. If you can't satisfy my curiosity, why bother piquing it at all?

So... can chopstick use prevent diabetes? Maybe. Maybe not. Eleven effing people tested? How is that a study?

Somewhere a study in scarlet - and who doesn't enjoy shopping for Holmes?
Andrew Joseph

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