Diabetic Food

Diabetic food is considered a gimmick to push food to people with diabetes
Diabetic food is considered a gimmick to push food to people with diabetes

Diabetic food is fast becoming an obsolete term. Yet, this doesn't stop thousands of diabetics believing they have to buy this food and countless manufacturers selling diabetic food products.

The situation has reached the point at which Diabetes UK and the Food Standards Agency have issued a joint statement calling for an end to ‘diabetic food’ and ‘suitable for diabetics’ on food labels.

Dietary policy

This shift in dietary policy is largely down to changing diet advice, which recommends that any food is suitable for people with diabetes in sensible moderation.

Concern has existed for some time that labelling a food as ‘diabetic’ could mislead people with diabetes into thinking that the food was essential or at the least especially suitable.

Often, diabetic foods are more expensive than standard products, with sugar-free and low-sugar versions also often misleading.

Often, ‘diabetic’ food labelling is applied to sweet food such as biscuits and chocolate.

According to the joint statement - people who eat sugary food should do so sparingly, and only as part of a healthy and balanced diet.

Effectively, healthy eating advice provided by the authorities is the same for people with diabetes as it is for those without.

Essentially, specially designated ‘diabetic’ foods should now become a thing of the past.

I am diabetic, should I eat diabetic food?

No, people with diabetes don’t need to eat special diabetic food.

Health authorities and Diabetes UK advise a healthy, balanced diet with no need to seek out specially labelled food. Because a manufacturer labels a food as ‘suitable for diabetics’ doesn’t mean that other food is necessarily unsuitable for diabetics.


There are no regulations as to which foods can bear the term ‘diabetic’ which has led to the Food Standards Agency and diabetes charity, Diabetes UK, calling for an end to the use of the term.

Foods labelled as diabetic may have lower quantities of sugar than other available options. However, because there are no official regulations over usage of the term, foods bearing the label ‘diabetic’ may not have any advantages over alternative options.

Diabetes UK and the FSA argue that there is rarely any benefit in picking so called ‘diabetic foods’. Sweet products, such as marmalades, sweets and chocolate, listed as diabetic options, may use sugar alcohols instead of sweeteners.

Sugar alcohol sweeteners usually end in ‘ol’ and include sorbitol, maltitol and xylitol. Sugar alcohols are lower in carbohydrate than table sugar but may cause an upset stomach or have a laxative effect if taken in larger quantities.

Not all foods labelled diabetic contain sugar alcohols, but a lot of them do. Diabetes UK have taken a stand against diabetic food for a few different reasons:

  • The term ‘diabetic’ on foods could mislead people into thinking that other options are less healthy or unsuitable for them
  • Foods labelled ‘diabetic’ are often more expensive than other options –the charity feels this could trick people with diabetes into paying more for no benefit
  • Items labelled as ‘diabetic’ tend to be less healthy options which could undermine efforts to promote healthy eating.

Why should I avoid diabetic food?

Firstly, ‘diabetic’ food is often much more expensive than other types of food.

Secondly, this type of food may offer no additional health benefits for the buyer. Because of this, it is recommended that diabetics don’t need to focus their food buying on diabetic food.

Will diabetic food hurt me?

Choosing diabetic food over healthy, natural products may damage your blood glucose control more than eating a balanced diet.

However, ‘diabetic’ foods of themselves may also synthetic sugars which can send blood glucose levels up. Remember, always read labels carefully and don’t be drawn in by a food which is ‘suitable for diabetics.’

What the community have to say about diabetic food

  • K9kitty: I think diabetic foods are still sold from the old days when it was thought diabetics need to avoid sugar at all costs, hence, finding something sweet with an alternative sweetener in and there is still a market for them or they wouldn't be stocked.
  • Angeldust: It's a total sham. I avoid synthetic sugars like the plague. They do a million times more harm than real sugar in moderation. The food industry produces them for next to nothing and the profit margin is huge.
  • Noblehead: Diabetic Food-Why is it sold? Good question, totally unnecessary and a complete waste of money!
  • Witan: It really is time that the 'Diabetic food' description had some regulatory control or was banned completely. It is open to every manufacturers own interpretation and as has already been said is often not just useless but misleading and bordering on harmful.
  • B@rnstormer: I've eaten Thorntons diabetic milk chocolate bar, diabetic Turkish delight bars, diabetic fudge bars and assorted diabetic individual chocolates and I have never had any stomach upsets after doing so. It obviously affects some people more than others; it seems a bit unfair to say everyone should steer clear of them.
Your Comments
I was bought Thorntons chocolates in January and then I bought Werthers Original sugar free sweets recently. After consuming only two, I had very bad diarrhoea. I then realised I had been affected in January as well. I really enjoyed both Thorntons and Werthers and thought this was the answer to my occasional craving for something sweet. I am trying to control my diabetes type 2 with diet only and had not indulged in sweet foods except taking only the tiniest piece of chocolate on rare occasions. Everyone is different in their tolerance of food. I am pleased to read that a little bit of sugar occasionally is allowed.
Posted by Muriel, N.Ireland on Friday, February 17, 2012
I am a type 2 diabetic and am at my wits' end with people insinuating type 2 is a lifestyle problem - in my case, many members of my family have the condition and none of them are obese. There is a predisposition, of that I am sure. Anyhow, I have been trying to follow as far as possible a low GI diet and since I have become more adept at this, my blood sugar levels have improved considerably and, as a side effect, my weight is going down slowly. I do not think there is any magic bullet but the watching the GI levels works for me.
Posted by FiDonald, Aberdeen on Thursday, February 16, 2012
I must admit I like the Thortons diabetic chocs too, even if I do have to eat sparingly because of the 'side effects'!But has anyone ordered a diabetic meal on a plane recently? Last time I did, I was given 3 brown rolls with butter and jam, with sweetened fruit on the side. Just goes to show how little non-diabetics know about diabetic food.
Posted by Jax on Wednesday, October 12, 2011
I don't cook and eat in restarunts only. But nowhere can I find any foods to eat in a cafe.
Posted by John Davis, Dallas Texas USA on Sunday, July 10, 2011
I've certainly seen one product that should not be labelled 'Diabetic', an ice-cream that contains fructose AND dextrose. My (limited) understanding is that fructose+glucose (dextrose is the right-handed optical isomer of glucose, yes?) is the same as sucrose. Simply using fructose (lower GI but 1.5 times sweeter) does NOT entitle you to claim that the product is 'Diabetic'.
Posted by Barn, Wales on Thursday, January 13, 2011
Yes, the specially labelled foods are a worry; mostly, I'd guess for newly diagnosed people. They should, however, have been advised against these products by their doctor and/or dietician. Where it's especially hard I think is for Type 2 people, who are likely to find it much harder to change eating habits than children or young adults with Type 1. I'm very sympathetic, and think it's high time dieticians did more proper teaching about how to read and interpret food analysis labels: they're often very confusing and misleading.
Posted by MrsMo, Lincoln on Thursday, January 13, 2011
Whatever the rights and wrongs about diabetic food may be, I happen to like Thorntons diabetic dark chocolate. It is nicer than the ordinary dark chocolate! I am type 2 diabetic, I do eat a sensible home cooked diet, but every now and then I like a square of chocolate. I keep it in the door of the fridge and a bar lasts me for months!
Posted by Rita Williams, Cardiff on Wednesday, January 12, 2011
My daughter wants to make some mince pie's for her boyfriends parents for Xmas, but the father is diabetic so I have been looking for recipes. One site confused me with quesions like caster sugar ! Is that ok? the filling? All other sites wanted me to download and join! This site has no mince pie recipes! If I find it hard how must you feel!
Posted by sallyg on Wednesday, December 15, 2010
My brother is having blood tests for diabetes. He's going thinner. I have immediately taken all his tins of sweets and wine gums away and got him sweeteners. I need a basic list of foods to eat to print off. He has mental health issues. I gather he can have sugar free jelly and sugar free canned fruit. Can he have red peanuts and raisins and how many sweets a day? I think it will be type two if he has got it. I gather he has to eat regularly and he is very dry and confused. Can't remember what the doctor has said. Can anyone help please?
Posted by Malc, Sheffield on Sunday, December 12, 2010
'Diabetic' labels can be very useful if used in the right context. I've been diabetic for 11 years and I really struggle with a sweet tooth. Boots used to sell diabetic custard creams and I'd eat nearly a packet a day with no problems to my bm's or my gut but they have been withdrawn for a few years now. And as for being expensive? Well if you want something sweet can you really put a price on pleasure for a diabetic? I don't think so!
Posted by MrsA, Southampton on Thursday, October 28, 2010
I have never eaten diabetic food. I think it's a con. I eat what I want.
Posted by anton, North East on Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Can anyone tell me which fruit is good for diabetics and which fruit is not so good. I keep reading conflicting information. I read one article lately that said grapefruit was not good for diabetics, then I read another article on the same day saying grapefruit is good for diabetics. You end up totally confused.
Posted by 3011blackdog, UK on Thursday, October 07, 2010
So called 'diabetic foods' are only a profit making exercise. Having injected insulin for over 53 years, I and diabetic friends can only remember the bad and unfortunate experiences of diabetic food; mainly due to the laxative effect of some artificial sweeteners! So avoid these and eat fresh veg and meat as part of a balanced diet, but use common sense.
Posted by Paul520785, Norfolk, UK on Tuesday, October 05, 2010
My hope is that manufacturers will reduce the amounts of sugar and artificial colours in -all- processed foods.
Posted by Amaryllis, East Yorkshire on Tuesday, October 05, 2010
It is more complex than this. I have both diabetes and haemophilia and have always taken the view that I need to control the condition to suit my preferred lifestyle and not the other way around. However, I have learned that self cooked foods provide better substitutes than so called diabetic foods. However, many people want convenience foods and don't like cooking. Life is a balance between enjoying it and staying healthy, and the two do not always fit together. I know lots of people say 'I enjoy taking exercise and healthy eating' but believe me, not everyone does even after they have tried it!
Posted by gbswales, Swansea, UK on Tuesday, October 05, 2010
I have found over the years special diabetic food is a big con. Expensive as well and also contains Sorbitol which is a laxative which can be very embarrassing.
Posted by Bob Hammond, Tyne & Wear on Tuesday, October 05, 2010
Does this mean an end to the diabetic menu in hospitals?
Posted by andreas on Thursday, September 30, 2010
I agree, this labelling is useless. However, there are some foods that are known to interfere with blood sugar control. I heard recently that the new formulation of some chocolately foods such as Mars bars fit in to this category. It would be much more useful if those particular foods were labelled as -unsuitable- for diabetics, along with reasons why. In fact, they should come with a general health warning for everyone, much like cigarettes.
Posted by Lee on Thursday, September 30, 2010
To be honest diabetic food is a con. It's expensive and not very nice. Have a good diet. I found going veggie was the way forward. Keep sugar low and do regular exercise. I guess it's what you call common sense and companies that sell so called diabetic foods should be shot at dawn.
Posted by Les Wood, Norfolk on Thursday, September 30, 2010
It is a scam to get more money from the unknowing diabetic. My advice is 'don't touch it with a barge pole'.
Posted by Garfield, England on Thursday, September 30, 2010
Nicely said, although I would like to re-iterate a point which is often missed. Sugar free is not the same as carbohydrate free -the term suitable for diabetics. Sugar free can give you a false sense of safety in the product. I know numerous diabetics who throw sugar free chocolate and sweets down their necks and are astounded to find out that the sweetners used contain almost as many carbs as the sugared version. I for one will be glad to see this label disappear.
Posted by RichieH on Thursday, September 30, 2010
Well I've eaten Thorntons diabetic chocolate and never had a problem. Also I can recommend sugar free jam/preserve called St Dalfour. It's a little on the pricey side £1.60 per jar but really tasty on toast in the morning. I buy thick cut orange spread and I've had no problems with it. I suppose everyone reacts differently to these things.
Posted by pauline, munlochy scotland on Thursday, September 30, 2010
There is absolutely no point in diabetic food. With the different ways of controlling blood sugars with systems such as basal-bolus there is a lot more freedom to eat what you want. Then for every once in a while, as a special treat, a 'normal' chocolate bar is fine as long as you alter your medication to deal with it. There is no need to spend extra money on special chocolates and sweets.
Posted by secret_witch, West Yorkshire on Thursday, September 30, 2010
I feel we are needing better labelling to tell us sugar content in products rather than sugar-free options. I have had problems with a lot of the suagr-free items, and as I have other health problems made worse by this, I would love to be able to go to the supermarket and have all items labelled. My shopping would take half the time.
Posted by Grace, Stonehaven on Thursday, September 30, 2010
It isn't just diabetic food that's the problem. It's also that sugar is added to nearly all non diabetic foods. As a newish diabetic, I was amazed to discover that sugar is added to most plain yogurts, tinned tomatoes and pretty much everything else in tins. Especially the low fat ones. Obviously I try to eat a healthy and balanced diet now, but there are many basics that are now on the red or amber list for me. I have now switched brands of tinned tomatoes for example, and to be perfectly honest, cannot tell the difference! But why, oh why do manufacturers put so much sugar in these? Interestingly, it is the cheapest often that have the least sugar. Now, I'm vigilant. But many diabetics are not, and many probably don't know of the wide variation in sugar content. It's nice to think that we are all eating a healthy diet, but let's not kid ourselves. We all use 'convenience' foods from time to time. So my suggestion is to get manufacturers on board with reducing sugar across the board. Then there would be no point in them making diabetic specific foods. It would also be likely to decrease the number of new diabetics!
Posted by fatdiabeticrunner, UK on Thursday, September 30, 2010
Hi I have thought for a long time that 'diabetic' foods are a waste of money; they are very expensive, provided no greater, and sometimes less, nutritional value, and can still have an adverse effect on BGs. This was highlighted last Christmas when a well meaning relative brought me a 'diabetic' christmas pudding... when I looked at the nutritional values and compared it to a bog standard one that my mum had brought, the so called diabetic one was actually worse for me!! I challenged the health shop manager, where it was brought and said that it was selling under false pretences... His comment was that 'whilst there are people prepared to pay for diabetic foods, I will continue to sell them.' A very worrying attitude I think!! P.S. I have found that diabetic chocolate has some really nasty side effects - if you really want some, eat a little of the good stuff.
Posted by Mandy Downs, Cambridge on Thursday, September 30, 2010
Have Your Say
This is my Diabetes Forum username
Your Comment* (1000 characters max)
Your email address will not be published. Your comments may be moderated. By submitting your comments, you agree to the Diabetes Community Rules.

Join us