The glycemic carbohydrates we consume are currently viewed in an unfavorable light in both the consumer and medical research worlds. In significant part, these carbohydrates, mainly starch and sucrose, are looked upon negatively due to their rapid and abrupt glucose delivery to the body which causes a high glycemic response. However, dietary carbohydrates which are digested and release glucose in a slow manner are recognized as providing health benefits. Slow digestion of glycemic carbohydrates can be caused by several factors, including food matrix effect which impedes α-amylase access to substrate, or partial inhibition by plant secondary metabolites such as phenolic compounds. Differences in digestion rate of these carbohydrates may also be due to their specific structures (e.g. variations in degree of branching and/or glycosidic linkages present). In recent years, much has been learned about the synthesis and digestion kinetics of novel α-glucans (i.e. small oligosaccharides or larger polysaccharides based on glucose units linked in different positions by α-bonds). It is the synthesis and digestion of such structures that is the subject of this review.
Keywords: Dietary carbohydrates; slowly digestible; starch; sucrose; transglycosylases; α-glucans.