Diabetics do not need any special foods

For a long time diabetics were prescribed a strict diet with no sugar and instructed to keep an exact tally of bread units (BE). To make it easier for diabetics to stick to their diet, industry developed special diabetic foods. They contain sugar substitutes like, for instance, fructose. More recent scientific findings, however, reveal that there is no need to impose a sugar ban in the case of diabetes. Instead, diabetics should follow the nutrition recommendations for the population at large. In particular, the daily consumption of fruit and vegetables is important because these foods not only contain antioxidants but also a high level of roughage. Special diabetic foods, therefore, are not needed. In the view of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment this means there is no need for special guidelines for diabetic foods. "It is far more the case that extended, uniform nutrition labelling on packaged foods should make it easier for diabetics to make their selection", says Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel, President of BfR. All other consumers would also benefit from this labelling.

Diabetes mellitus is a metabolic disease. The body stops producing insulin (type 1) or the cells can no longer absorb it (type 2). Both types prevent dietary sugar reaching the cell interior which means that it cannot act as an energy supplier or energy store. Instead, the ingested sugar accumulates in blood, the blood sugar level rises and the sugar is excreted, unused, in urine.

For a long time diabetics were advised to strictly control the sugar in their diet or to switch to foods with sugar substitutes, for instance fructose. More recent studies show that there is no need for diets of this kind. As diabetes is not just a “sugar disease” but also involves protein and fat metabolism disorders, it is more important for diabetics to have individual nutrition plans. Besides normal blood sugar levels, some other important goals of diabetic treatment are optimised blood fat levels, normal blood pressure and normal body weight. They can best be achieved by a diet that is rich in roughage and vitamins. Fruit, vegetables, salad, pulses and wholemeal products should feature in the daily diet of diabetics. Fatty sausage and cheese varieties, chocolate, cakes and crisps should be avoided. Diabetics should preferably drink low fat dairy products and use oil instead of butter for cooking. Their diet should be low in table salt. Alcohol should be consumed in moderation, for instance one to two glasses of wine a day. By contrast, special foods presented and labelled as “suitable for diabetics” are not necessary. This is particularly true as labelling fails to fulfil its purpose. There are many other foods which are suitable for diabetics but which are not labelled as such.

Diabetics, like all other consumers, would benefit from the extended, uniform nutrition labelling which is currently being discussed on the European level. Easily understandable details not only of calorific value, proteins, carbohydrates and fat but also of total sugar content, saturated fatty acids, roughage, sodium and table salt on packaged foods would make it easier to select suitable products.

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