What is Tsampa?
Tsampa (pronounced sahm'-pa) is the staple food of the Himalayas, made from sprouted and roasted mountain barley. For centuries, people of the Himalayas and Sherpa mountaineers have relied on Tsampa for long-lasting energy and its unique nutritional benefits.
Trekking through the Himalayas, I felt incredibly energized and alive. Why did I feel this good? Could eating Tsampa have something to do with it?
When I got back to Seattle, I began my research and found that Tsampa is made from highland barley, a great source of fiber rich complex carbohydrates and key minerals with a uniquely low glycemic index. But I wanted to know how that translated to Tsampa, the sprouted and roasted cereal made from this highland barley, and if there was any scientific rationale for the long-lasting energy I experienced in the Himalayas.
In 2016, Peak Sherpa funded a clinical study with GI Labs in Toronto, Canada to better understand the long lasting energy I felt from eating Tsampa.
Before discussing the results, its important to have a baseline understanding that our muscles burn glucose (a sugar). Regardless of whether you eat proteins, fats, or carbs, our bodies have metabolic processes that can eventually break these different foods down into sugar so we can fuel our muscles for activity.
One key distinction is that some foods hit our blood stream faster, and others slower, and how long the glucose resides in our bloodstream varies. That is the basis of measuring the glycemic index (GI) of various foods, and our hypothesis was that GI may explain the phenomena that I experienced while trekking in the Himalayas.
The results of GI Labs clinical study showed that Tsampa, when compared to the dextrose control, had a blood glucose peak that was 25% lower. This is good, because a high peak (too much blood glucose, too quickly) can initiate a strong insulin response, pulling more of the glucose out of the bloodstream and away from your muscles. That is why when you eat too much sugar (which has a high glycemic index), you feel energized for a while but then experience the follow on fatigue known as sugar crash.
One of the most interesting findings from this study is that for the participants who ate Tsampa, the “tail” of the blood glucose levels plateaued, and stayed elevated for the duration of the 2-hour study. This essentially means you still have gas in your tank after a prolonged period of time. This prompted GI Labs to conclude:
Why should I eat Tsampa?