By Helen Jackson
Accredited Practising Dietitian and Credentialled
Information about diabetes-related free foods can be
Ideally, a free food for people living with diabetes is
considered to have only a small amount of carbohydrate (5 grams or
less per serve).
The core intention of calling an item a free food is to
acknowledge that it will have a very low impact on blood glucose
levels. The theory is that even though some of the free foods do
contain a small portion of carbohydrate, blood glucose levels are
generally not affected.
There are limitations to the concept of free foods. Under
certain conditions, even free foods can affect insulin requirements
and blood glucose levels. Free foods that contain protein or fat,
although having a low impact on blood glucose levels, still require
insulin for metabolism.
It's important to consider both the glycaemic index (GI), which
measures how quickly a carbohydrate food is digested and the
resulting glucose enters the bloodstream, and the food insulin
index (FII), which looks at how much insulin the body would
normally release in response to a certain food or meal
(carbohydrate plus the protein and fat).
Some foods need more insulin for metabolism than others.
It's also important to consider factors such as an individual's
reaction to certain foods and the amount of free foods consumed in
These are both influences which can have an impact on whether or
not an item is actually "free" in respect to the individual.
Another consideration is the energy (kilojoule or calorie)
content of the food.
Eating large volumes of "free" foods which are high in fat or
protein may cause or make worse a weight problem.
It's important to eat any food, "free" or not, mindfully - take
your time to enjoy it: smell it, feast your eyes on it, feel its
texture in your mouth and taste it! Mindful eating can reduce
So are free foods really free? For some individuals this may be
However, for others, body reactions and other influences may
adversely affect blood glucose or weight when eating these
Experimenting with "free" foods, considering how much of them
you eat and checking your blood glucose, is an option for working
out if "free" foods are really free for you.
For more information on Glycaemic Index and Food Insulin Index,
visit the Glycaemic Index Foundation at https://www.gisymbol.com/