Special edition: Blood sugar management

Glycaemic (GI) foods remain in obesity-diabetes niche but claims are changing game


- Last updated on GMT

Typical EU-approved claims: “Consumption of [X] contributes to the reduction of the blood glucose rise after that meal [post-prandial].”
Typical EU-approved claims: “Consumption of [X] contributes to the reduction of the blood glucose rise after that meal [post-prandial].”

Related tags Blood sugar Diabetes mellitus Snack functional beverage beverage

Foods that help moderate blood sugar activity are gaining more traction with diabetics, the overweight and the obese – with new EU claims backing their promise to control hunger impulses. With 2bn people overweight or obese in the world, and type-2 diabetes on the rise, their growth seems assured. 

And there are emerging areas like cognitive benefits derived from blood sugar control, as Euromonitor International has noted. See below.

In the world’s toughest health claims regime – the European Union – there are eight approved health claims relating to glycaemic control, or blood sugar management - with foods commonly ranked via a scale called the Glycaemic Index (GI).

It’s an impressive return under the harsh scientific light that has been shone on the sector since the European Union nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR) kicked into life in 2008. But perhaps it is not that surprising as the effects are relatively easily measured compared to many other nutrient-benefit relations that have struggled to prove their link under the NHCR.

The wording for each approved claim is almost identical: Consumption of [X] contributes to the reduction of the blood glucose rise after that meal [post-prandial].”

The approved ingredients are:

  • Arabinoxylan produced from wheat endosperm.​ For food which contains at least 8 g of arabinoxylan (AX)-rich fibre produced from wheat endosperm (at least 60% AX by weight) per 100 g of available carbohydrates in a quantified portion as part of the meal.
  • Beta-glucans from oats and barley.​ At least 4 g of beta-glucans from oats or barley for each 30 g of available carbohydrates.
  • Hydroxypropyl methylcellulose (HPMC).​ At least 4 g per quantified portion and must have choking warning for people with swallowing difficulties.
  • Pectins.​ 10 g per quantified portion with choking warning.
  • Resistant starch. ​Replacing digestible starch so that final resistant starch content is at least 14% of total starch.
  • Sugar replacers like intense sweeteners and polyols like xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol, lactitol, isomalt, erythritol, sucralose and polydextrose; D-tagatose and isomaltulose. ​Individually or in combination replace sugars.
  • Alpha-cyclodextrin. ​Food should contain at least 5 g of alpha-cyclodextrin per 50 g of starch in a quantified portion as part of the meal. 
  • Fructose. ​When a 30% reduction inglucose and/or sucrose occurs in sugar-sweetened foods or drinks.

Companies like Oatley and Quaker have been making good use of the beta-glucan claims.

Another 16 nutrients have been rejected from wheat dextrin to sugar beet fibre to rye fibre, protein hydrolysate, partially hydrolysed guar gum and most recently the popular ingredient, fenugreek.

The European Food Safety Authority rejected a 9­study dossier from Indian player Avesthagen that linked fenugreek (Trigonella foenum­graecum L.) and improved glycaemic response.

The company said there were positive aspects to the opinion and would fight on and others noted the opinion came despite a recent meta-analysis​ that found in favour of fenugreek and its glycaemic response potential.

Insulin reader

Insulin is the hormone that permits blood sugar to enter the body’s cells, providing them with fuel. Insulin resistance, where the body’s cells respond poorly to insulin, resulting in high blood sugar levels, is the first step to developing type 2 diabetes. Poor blood sugar management worsens insulin resistance, which in turn elevates blood sugar levels even further – the perfect example of a vicious cycle.

Scientists from the National University of Singapore, McMaster University (Canada), and Harvard University concluded medium and high doses (at least 5 g per day) of fenugreek seed powder were associated with significant reductions in fasting blood glucose levels in diabetics.

“Fenugreek is widely available at low cost and generally accepted in resource poor countries such as India and China where a large proportion of persons with diabetes in the world reside. Therefore, fenugreek may be a promising complementary option for the clinical management of diabetes,” ​they noted.

Blood sugar management and cognitive performance

Beyond the weight-diabetes spectrum for blood sugar management, Euromonitor analyst Simone Baroke notes cognitive health and memory are areas “of enormous interest to the over 50s, although there is potential for marketing products to younger consumers too.”

“The link between blood sugar levels and cognitive performance is well established, especially in diabetes patients for whom temporary memory loss and cognitive hiatuses are not only a symptom of poor blood sugar control but also a disconcerting warning sign heralding the gradual – and irreversible – deterioration of their mental faculties,”​ Baroke wrote in a recent report on GI foods.

“Over the long term excess blood sugar exerts a damaging effect on all of the body’s organs, and the brain is no exception.”

It values the cognitive market at more than €400m.

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