Foods marketed as suitable for diabetics are big business. According to Mintel’s Global New Products Database, 779 food and beverage products carrying the claim were launched across Europe from 2007 to 2011. However, Diabetes Ireland says that people with diabetes are advised to eat a balanced diet just like the rest of the population, and special diabetic-friendly label claims may give the impression that they should eat a particular diet – and even encourage them to eat such products regularly.
“Labelling foods as being suitable for people with diabetes undermines important messages about healthy eating,” said Dr Anna Clarke from Diabetes Ireland.
“The label ‘suitable for diabetics’ does not actually mean that a product is suitable for people with the condition,” she said. “…Someone with diabetes might even get the impression that a ‘diabetic’ food product is beneficial or even essential as part of their diet. This is not that the case and we feel that consumers may be misled.”
The organisation also took aim at producers of ‘no added sugar’ and ‘sugar free’ foods and drinks targeted at people with diabetes.
“In reality ’no added sugar’ does not mean that there are no sugars in the food or drink you’re consuming,” Clarke said. “We recommend that people should have a small amount of the actual sugar-sweetened, good quality food that they enjoy. Allowing yourself a reasonable weekly treat or a snack is a more realistic and balanced approach.”
Diabetes Ireland said that the concept of following a strict sugar-free diet is obsolete, but products claiming to be ‘diabetic’ or ‘sugar-free’ have flooded the market in recent years, including foods like sweets, chocolates, biscuits, jams and drinks.
The organisation said that people with diabetes are encouraged to eat a diet containing plenty of fruit and vegetables, which is low in salt, saturated fat, and sugar – just like everyone else – although they do need to monitor blood sugar levels, carbohydrate and fat intake to manage their condition.