Diabetes Ireland advises caution on 'diabetic' foods


DIABETES IRELAND is calling on food manufacturers to stop using the term “diabetic” or “suitable for diabetics” on food products, pointing out that people with diabetes should be eating healthy portions of regular foods.

There has been an influx of “diabetic” and “sugar-free” versions of common products onto the market in recent years, according to Diabetes Ireland. Products such as chewing gum, sweets, chocolates, biscuits, syrups, jams and a wide range of drinks have become more common in supermarkets and grocery shops and are available to order online in Ireland.

“Labelling foods as being suitable for people with diabetes undermines important messages about healthy eating,” said dietitian Sinéad Hanley from Diabetes Ireland. She said significant marketing resources had been directed by producers of “no added sugar”, “sugar free” and “diabetic” foods at people with diabetes, who have to monitor blood sugar levels, carbohydrate and fat intake to manage their condition.

Ms Hanley said: “In reality, ‘no added sugar’ does not mean that there are no sugars in the food or drink you’re consuming. Likewise, the label ‘suitable for diabetics’ does not actually mean that a product is suitable for people with the condition.

“If a manufacturer labels a product ‘suitable for diabetics’, the claim may give rise to the idea that people with diabetes should follow a special diet that is different to everyone else. 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 the case and we feel that consumers may be misled.”

Diabetes Ireland claims the concept of a strict sugar-free diet for some people with diabetes is obsolete. These days, guidelines on healthy food choices and individualised advice on eating habits for each person with diabetes are used to manage the condition.

Ms Hanley said everybody should be encouraged to eat a healthy balanced diet and maintain a healthy weight, and many “diabetic foods” were quite high in saturated fat, carbohydrates and energy. Regular consumption of these foods may lead to weight gain*, she said, and their use may prevent people from eating a healthy, low saturated fat diet. Moreover, “diabetic” food products tend to be more expensive than regular comparable products.

* This article was amended on September 11th, 2012, to correct an error