Prof Tom Wolever
Tom Wolever is a name you’ll see on many research papers involving the glycemic index. In fact his name is on the first paper ever published about slow-release carbs. GI News asked Prof. Wolever how he became involved in research in this area.
‘Research on the GI is very exciting – the more we explore, the more we discover. The health benefits are far-reaching: from diabetes risk reduction and management to long-term cardiovascular health. The power to improve health through informed nutritional choices is very rewarding.’
Before completing medical school, I was involved in the development of the concept of slow-release carbohydrate and the glycemic index with Dr David Jenkins and his research team, including his wife, Alexandra, playing a major role in the data analysis for the first paper on GI published in 1981. (Jenkins DJA, Wolever TMS, Taylor RH, Barker HM, Fielden H, Baldwin JM, Bowling AC, Newman HC, Jenkins AL, Goff DV. ‘Glycemic index of foods: a physiological basis for carbohydrate exchange.’ Am J Clin Nutr 1981;34:362-366)
Throughout my career I’ve had a special interest in diabetes. My research has been focused on the role of dietary carbohydrates in human nutrition and metabolism, with particular interests in insulin resistance and diabetes. It probably all started after grade 12, when I went to the UK as an exchange student, and to Oxford University to study medicine where I discovered that many of my friends helped to make ends meet by being ‘research subjects’. I joined them, at first doing breathing experiments, then donating blood for Dr David Jenkins.
I took a year off from medical studies to do an MSc on the effects of dietary fibre on blood glucose responses under the supervision of Dr Jenkins. As part of my research, I was involved in designing the first study that showed the ability of fiber to reduce blood glucose and insulin responses is related to its viscosity. We also conducted the first successful study using purified fiber supplements (guar) to treat diabetes mellitus. After completing medical school (and continuing to perform research in my spare time), I joined Dr. Jenkins at the University of Toronto to complete my PhD – on the glycemic index.
In 1995, my wife Judy and I founded an independent company to facilitate commercial food testing and research. Just to show how life goes in a full circle – Dr Alexandra Jenkins, along with Dr Vlad Vuksan, is now our partner in the expanded Glycemic Index Laboratories, and we continue to work closely with David Jenkins and his team at the University of Toronto. It is my continued pleasure to collaborate with the University of Sydney’s Jennie Brand-Miller both on research papers and in the advocacy and promotion of the benefits of GI.
I love the research with which I am involved. But just as we must all strive for balanced diet, I also think it’s important to have a balanced life. I enjoy spending time with my wife, Judy, and our three children. In fact, I have just returned from a two-week bike trip around Wales with my 15-year-old son. I also make time for involvement in church activities, fitness, and competing in my favourite sport, orienteering.
Tom Wolever is full Professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences, Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto, a member of the medical staff at St. Michael’s Hospital in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, President of Glycemic Index Laboratories, and is an active volunteer for the Canadian Diabetes Association.