Glucose Guru: Ethan Lewis
Treating lows with products that look and taste good
Ethan Lewis was an entrepreneur from the get-go. At 16, he ran his own snack-food business, selling low-carb crackers and baked goods. He’d been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 12, and by the time he was a teen he knew he wanted to make a difference. His diabetes has guided his current endeavor, too.
Lewis, 26, had been struggling with blood glucose balance for years. “I had a series of really bad lows,” he says. “I was using everything from tablets to juice, but what I found was they weren’t working fast enough.” So two years ago he started the Denver-based company GlucoBrands. (It’s since been bought by Boulder Brands—though Lewis remains at the helm—and renamed Level Foods.) His goal: create a fast-acting, tasty, easy-to-carry, and affordable glucose product.
Lewis settled on glucose gel, which is absorbed into the bloodstream faster through the gums than sources of glucose that enter the stomach first. He also likes how gels are easy to use for both children and the elderly as well as for those whose hypoglycemia makes chewing or swallowing difficult. Each pouch delivers 15 grams of carbohydrate, and the package is slim enough to carry in a pocket.
The look of the package was important to Lewis. The products couldn’t scream “medicine!” “If I take out a tube of tablets at a party, everyone starts saying, ‘He’s having a low.’ It’s so medical,” Lewis says. “We wanted a line of products that looked cool and tasted great.” He spent six months with a research-and-development team concocting flavors that enliven the traditional glucose product arena—think caramel, strawberry banana, vanilla, and mandarin orange.
The first test market: ambulance services, because drivers use glucose gel to treat hypoglycemic emergencies. “I thought if I can get ambulance drivers to carry gels—the most discerning glucose users—then it would be ready for the consumer market,” Lewis says. The response was enthusiastic. The gels are now available online at levelfoods.com and at pharmacies and retailers, such as CVS and Target.
Level Foods has recently expanded into the snack-food business, launching low-carbohydrate protein bars and shakes intended to have a minimal impact on blood glucose while still tasting good.