Professor Jeya Henry, a leading academic in the field of human nutrition, told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “My opinion is the company that first puts its head into this market is going to make billions. Look at China and India. Between them they have 200M [cases of] type-two diabetes that have been diagnosed. For every diagnosed person there are three of four undiagnosed or with pre-diabetes.”
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that by the year 2025, 438M people worldwide - or 7.8% of the adult population - will be affected by diabetes.
So far, the number of food products targeted at diabetics had been limited by uncertainty how to market them and a lack of appealing ingredients suitable for diabetic foods, said Henry.
“How we position these foods without them becoming ‘medicalised’ is the main question. It is not a scientific issue, that information is there, it is more a commercial or PR publicity paradigm,” he added.
Henry predicted that bread and soft drinks would be the first diabetic products to win widespread appeal. Bread is a staple of life in Europe while soft drinks are immensely popular. Both have a high glycaemic index, meaning they raise blood-sugar levels, he said.
A lack of appealing natural ingredients had also held back diabetic foods. “If you want to eat a good meal [for blood sugar levels] you previously had to eat bean sprouts and curd cakes, which are not terribly exciting. But things like nuts and fruits could get people excited. You now get foods that are not only good for you, but taste good as well.”
Fruit and nuts
Continuing research into fruit and nuts, such as blueberries and almonds, has recently revealed significant ability to both alleviate the symptoms of diabetes and help delay the onset of pre-diabetics.
Dr Karen Lapsley, chief scientific officer at the Almond Board of California, told FoodManufacture.co.uk that almonds have shown potential for increasing satiety, slowing digestion and producing an even absorption of glucose into the blood during clinical studies.
The US market is starting to see the launch of almond energy bars and other easy-to-carry snacks for diabetics, she said. The UK government’s “preventative” approach to health makes it ideal for such products due to their potential in delaying the onset of diabetes, she added.
Blueberries have shown significant potential in preventing and combating diabetes. Fermenting the juice has shown to increase its beneficial effects. Also, the fermenting process makes the health benefits of the juice more easily transferred to manufactured products, a spokesman for the Wild Blueberry Association told FoodManufacture.co.uk.