The life of a diabetic can’t be easy. Tons of doctors appointments, meetings with nutritionists and getting poked with needles cannot be much fun. Plus, there is so much information to learn especially about nutrition and changing your lifestyle to better manage your blood sugar. Diabetes is such an all encompassing disease that there are tons of products marketed specifically for this group of people. The American Diabetes Association estimates that medical expenses are 2.3 times more for diabetics than for non-diabetics, which includes special food products just for diabetics. I spoke with Mary Hartley, RD, MPH to find out if popular products like Glucerna and Boost are useful tools for diabetics or simply a sales ploy.
Mary Hartley, a registered dietian from New York City and newest edition to the Diets In Review team, thinks these products are great for monitoring nutrients. “The consumer knows exactly how much he’s getting in terms of carbohydrate, fiber, fat, protein and anything else that is measured and these products are formulated to minimize spikes in blood sugar,” Mary says. Excellent point and a great start for newly diagnosed patients or diabetics that lead an active lifestyle and want to throw a shake or bar in their gym bag. I recommend having a small snack on hand at all times to help avoid low blood sugar. Mary adds that this is another perk as these products are extremely portable and convenient.
There are a few drawbacks, however. A six pack of Glucerna or Boost drinks comes in at around 8 to 10 dollars, and an eight pack of bars will set you back around 6 dollars. Mary suggests looking for coupons or sales that can cut the cost considerably.
The bars and drinks are also highly processed, containing many chemical compounds to make up for their lack of sugar. Sugar free products use sugar alcohols, while also increasing fat content to keep taste intact. Sugar alcohols can cause diarrhea if eaten in large quantities so try and limit these as much as possible. Mary and I both concur that a balance of processed meal supplements along with whole foods is the best way to maintain a healthy lifestyle as a diabetic.
Overall I feel these products are a valuable tool to help diabetics manage their diet. These products are a way to simplify the complicating disease state that is diabetes. Like with any healthy eating endeavor, moderation is the key. Meal replacements are a great stepping stone to an overall lifestyle modification and should be used in conjunction with homemade meals.