Foods Labeled “Diabetic”…Are They Worth It?

March 24, 2016 10:59 am
Diabetic Foods

Look down any pharmacy or supermarket aisle’s health food section and you’re sure to find low-carb, low-sugar and low-fat items up and down the shelves. But what about foods labeled “diabetic”? What makes a food “diabetes friendly”? Is it actually good for people with diabetes? Is it worth the extra cost? More importantly, does it even taste good?

Foods that carry the label “diabetic” are usually lower in sugar or no sugar, low carb or low on the glycemic index (carbohydrates that do not affect a large increase on the body’s blood glucose levels).[1] When a food is labeled as low sugar, it often means that while sugar has been removed from the recipe, it has also been replaced by artificial sweeteners. This is done in order to maintain flavor in that cookie or scoop of ice cream you are munching on. Many contain sugar alcohols, like Sorbitol and Xylitol.

While artificial sweeteners can help in lowering the carb count on particular foods, be sure to read the nutrition facts on the back of the box. The sugar may be lower, but some more fat and calories may have been snuck in as well.  Too many sugar alcohols can cause gastric distress or have a laxative effect as well.[2] Recent studies have even suggested artificial sweeteners may lead to the development of glucose intolerance and type 2 diabetes.[3] Other research claims that artificial sweeteners can actually cause you to consume more calories. Your brain responds to sweet tastes with signals to eat more, but getting sweet signals without calories can make you feel hungry and eat more than if you had eaten a full sugar food.[4]

Many low carb products came to grocery store during the Atkin’s Diet craze in the last decade and now low glycemic foods are the up and coming fad.  The higher the glycemic index (GI), the more it raises blood glucose levels when compared to foods with a lower GI. The level of fat and fiber in a food tend to categorize it as lower on the GI scale. Low GI foods (55 or less) include steel-cut oatmeal, sweet potatoes, legumes, and most fruits. Foods high on the GI index (70 or more) include white bread, instant oatmeal, russet potatoes, and pineapple. While foods lower on the GI scale may have their benefits, it is still important to take into consideration the amount of carbs eaten and that GI can change when combined with other foods[5].

Many diabetes advocacy organizations, like Diabetes UK, are against the labeling of foods as “diabetic” or “suitable for diabetics.” It is viewed as a simple marketing ploy and some advocates feel that such labels are misleading people that other options may be less healthy. They are also concerned that the label of “suitable for diabetics” often unnecessarily raises the price of the food item. There is very little regulation on what can be or cannot be label as “diabetic” food.[6]

Bottom line: Pretend like you are back in your high school chemistry class and read the list of ingredients and nutrition facts on the foods that you buy. Whatever the label is on the box of pasta or cookies, know what you are putting in your body and count those carbs. The Dario App can help you find all the carb values you need to keep informed and on track.

[1] (2011). International Markets Bureau. Market Analysis Report: Consumer Trends Food for Individuals with Diabetes in the United States. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

[2] (2014). American Diabetes Association. Sugar Alcohols.

[3] (2014). Associated Press. Artificial sweeteners linked to diabetes in study. CBS News.

[4] (2016). The Nutrition Source. Artificial Sweeteners. Harvard School of Public Health. Online.

[5] (2014). American Diabetes Association. Glycemic Index and Diabetes. Online.

[6] (2016). Diabetes UK. Diabetic Food. Online.