With the American diabetic baby boomers numbers getting so much larger, why don't most grocery stores have a diabetic section? I would think at having something like a section or better yet, having a shelf label of a color that could denote the product as being diabetic healthy. I am guessing that many products that are diabetic healthy would increase sharply in sales. I for one would love to see that at my grocery.

This is an excellent question! So many of my patients with diabetes will tell me that they struggle when they go to the grocery store. They relay a number of frustrations and questions:

* What is the most important part of the nutrition label? Should I be looking at the carbohydrate content or the grams of sugar or total calories? * If a product says “no sugar added” does that mean it is safe for me to eat? * Fruit has sugar. Is it off limits if I am following a diabetic diet? * Where can I find foods with fiber?

It would be great if we could divide a grocery store into sections that would fit every person’s need but unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. In my opinion, it would be very difficult, expensive, and time consuming to create a separate section just for diabetes. And it would be challenging to figure out what would constitute a “healthy” food to put in the diabetic aisle. (As an aside, instead of designating a specific aisle, many supermarket chains will include a general health score on all their products, so the consumers can get a quick idea of whether a product is healthy.)

A person living with diabetes needs to monitor blood sugar levels. In order to do that, he has to consume a healthy amount of carbohydrates, reduce intake of foods and beverages with added sugars, get more fiber, etc. But that does not necessarily mean that he needs to look for foods that are specifically advertised as “diabetic”. As an example, one of my patients with diabetes recently said to me “you would be proud of me. I am trying to eat less sugar so I got a sugar free apple pie the other day!” I asked him how many pieces he ate and he informed me that “because the pie was sugar free I could eat as much as I wanted so I had three pieces!” This is why I have concern for an aisle dedicated to diabetes in the grocery store. You would certainly find foods lower in sugar but just because an item is low in added sugar does not make it carbohydrate free (hence the pie example). It would be easy for someone with diabetes to enter the “diabetic” aisle and feel that all of those foods were fair game. I would be concerned that that person would consume far more of these foods because he or she considered them to be “healthy” for them.

Consumers that are interested in following a healthy and balanced diet based on any diagnosis or healthy goals need to get educated first. That is why so many of my patients come to me for help. If you have diabetes and are having a difficult time following a proper diet, I would first recommend that you contact a registered dietitian in your area. The dietitian can provide you with an in depth discussion about a balanced diet for diabetes and can personalize it based on your needs. Dietitians frequently counsel their patients to begin to look at food labels. You can pick up any food item in any aisle and get a feel for whether the item would fit healthfully into your diet. One with diabetes may benefit from looking at the total carbohydrate content and decide if that fits in her carbohydrate controlled diet. A person with heart disease may need to focus on the fat content/type of fat and the amount of sodium in the item. And someone trying to reduce risk of cancer may be interested in checking out total calories per serving of product (to help prevent overeating/obesity which is a risk factor for cancer.) I encourage people to look at the ingredient list of products too. If a product has a long list of ingredients and if you can’t pronounce a lot of the ingredients, then I recommend limiting intake of that product.

A person following a diabetic diet should consume a variety of foods including fruits/vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and low fat dairy products. They also could include an occasional not-so-healthy snack. These foods are found in all aisles and around the entire perimeter of the store. You could almost think of the grocery store itself as one big aisle…the key is taking time to explore the whole thing and find the healthiest products for you and your family.

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