There are few things in the dietary world that stir as much controversy as the carbohydrate (starch and sugar) content of one’s diet. Should it be low carb? Do they need to be low glycemic carbs? Should we mix carbs and protein in a meal? The more you read, the more confusing it gets. Now, to add to the complexity, we are learning that no matter what we eat, it may be as much what happens to that calorie before it’s even swallowed that plays a key role in whether it gets burned, or stored.
Carb digestion begins in the mouth
The carb management journey starts with an enzyme in your saliva called amylase. Amylase breaks down carbs so they can be metabolized more efficiently. Failing to break down carbs promotes insulin resistance, reduces metabolic efficiency, and promotes obesity. As is true for all enzymes in the body, we have a variable ability in how much of it we make. With amylase, it turns out that there can be a fifteen-fold difference between individuals. If you super produce it, you can get away with eating more carbs. Produce too little, you’ll translate those carbs on the lips to fat on your hips. So, it turns out that it’s not only what you put in your mouth, its what’s already there that counts, as well.
Although we don’t yet have a routine clinical test for the AMY1 gene which codes for amylase production, it may not be long until you can routinely find out where you stand on this ‘do I have the lucky gene’ issue. In the meantime, there is a simple home test you can use to guesstimate your amylase output, and determine how much you might need to restrict your carbs to compensate.
The home test for amylase activity
-get a simple unsalted cracker, and let some saliva gather in your mouth
-take a normal sized bite of the cracker and chew it, mixing it well with the saliva.
-as the amylase does its work, you will taste the bland cracker turn sweet (becoming glucose molecules).
-time this process from the start of chewing to the sweet taste. It is advised to rinse the mouth and repeat twice to see if the results match.
What the ‘time to sweetness’ tells us:
-15 seconds or less: Optimal amylase production and carb digestion
-15-30 seconds: Moderate amylase production and carb digestion
-30+ seconds: Limited amylase production and carb digestion
Using these results, a rough outline for carb intake can be made. If we assume an 1800/day calorie diet, with ~45% carbs (leaving 25% for protein and 30% for fats), this would mean, at most:
-Optimal group: 200 grams of carbs per day
Moderate group: 150 grams of carbs per day
Limited group: 100 grams of carbs per day
For comparison sakes, there are about 12 grams of carbs in a slice of whole wheat bread.
Chew well to work around an AMY1 deficit
Limiting carbs in the diet is important, but is not the only management tool to manage this issue. Chewing well to liquefy the food before swallowing will increase the contact time with amylase you do produce. So even if you have fewer AMY1 copies, you can maximize their effect by chewing your food well. Prolonging the chew time also gives more taste satisfaction, and advances your sense of satiety, or fullness. This will make you feel full and satisfied with a lower carb volume.
Using carbs for energy and limiting their storage as fat is not as simple as a single taste test. But knowing your amylase capacity can help in deciding how important carb restriction is for you to maintain an optimum weight.