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Diabetes Nutrition Bars and Shakes
What Can They Do for You?

by Patti Geil, MS, RD, FADA, CDE

“Clinically shown to help manage blood glucose levels.” “Helps reduce excessive food consumption.” “Nutritional support for blood-sugar stability.” “Avoid blood sugar lows and highs.” “May help you lower A1C levels.”

Wouldn’t it be great if a specially formulated snack bar or shake could do all that? These days, grocery and drugstore shelves offer a dizzying array of energy bars and other products designed to offer convenience, good nutrition, and sometimes more. A number of products are specifically targeted to people with diabetes, and, as seen from the advertising slogans listed above, many manufacturers claim that their products offer benefits beyond providing a quick snack — and there’s some evidence that some do.

It’s long been known that keeping blood glucose levels within a fairly narrow range helps you to feel better generally and perform better both physically and mentally. More recently, research has suggested that frequent sharp rises and falls in blood glucose level may be associated with the development of cardiovascular disease in some people with diabetes. “Stabilizing” your blood glucose — or preventing highs and lows — is therefore a worthwhile goal.

The nutrition bars, shakes, and some other products currently marketed to people with diabetes may help you achieve this goal by either preventing hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) or by preventing high blood glucose, particularly after meals. In either case, however, the product you choose to use must be incorporated into your overall meal plan, not just added on, and it should be consumed at an appropriate time. It should be low in saturated fat and, ideally, contain no trans fat. And you should assess its effectiveness at improving your blood glucose control with frequent blood glucose monitoring.

Uncooked cornstarch
Products that contain uncooked cornstarch can help to prevent hypoglycemia because of the way the body absorbs this type of starch. Unlike some other forms of carbohydrate, which the body quickly breaks down and converts to glucose, potentially causing spikes in blood glucose level, uncooked cornstarch is broken down and absorbed very slowly. It does not, therefore, cause a sudden rise in blood glucose level but rather causes a prolonged, lower rise. Interestingly, cooked cornstarch does not have this effect; it produces a faster, higher blood glucose rise.

Because the taste of uncooked cornstarch alone is unappealing, food manufacturers have created products that contain it along with other ingredients to mask the flavor and provide other nutrients. (Cornstarch alone provides virtually no nutrients other than carbohydrate.)

In research studies, it has been shown that eating a bedtime snack containing uncooked cornstarch reduces the incidence of hypoglycemia overnight in people with Type 1 diabetes who follow an intensive insulin regimen. A small study that used continuous glucose monitoring to document the incidence and duration of hypoglycemia showed that hypoglycemia occurred at a rate of 2.8% when people with Type 1 diabetes ate an uncooked-cornstarch–based snack bar at bedtime, and at a rate of 22% when they ate their regular bedtime snack. In addition, people with Type 2 diabetes who ate a bedtime snack bar containing uncooked cornstarch had fewer incidents of elevated blood glucose at midnight and had lower fasting (before-breakfast) blood glucose levels the next morning. The reason for the lower morning fasting blood glucose level is unclear, but it may be due to improved insulin release from the pancreas or more controlled glucose output from the liver.

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Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information provided on this Web site should not be construed as medical instruction. Consult appropriate health-care professionals before taking action based on this information.



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