First Emirati food study could help with diabetes planning

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Research led by a university in Abu Dhabi has provided new insights into how traditional Emirati foods can affect blood sugar levels.

The aim of the United Arab Emirates University study was to help encourage healthy eating and offer dietary guidance.

With reports that over a fifth of the Emirati population suffers from diabetes, common foods like types of fried bread, rich rice dishes or sago seeds with ghee have come under increasing scrutiny for harmful effects.

The UAEU study analysed 18 popular dishes to assess their glycaemic index and load values.

It is the first research to assess Emirati foods exclusively. Its findings have been developed into comprehensive value tables and published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

GI indicates whether foods raise blood glucose levels quickly, moderately, or slowly, helping diabetics to manage their condition and their diet. 

Previous research has shown that low-GI foods can particularly help those with type-2 diabetes keep their glucose levels under control.

Led by Ayesha Al-Dhaheri of the university’s Nutrition and Food Department, the team tested each food by asking at least 15 healthy participants to eat small portions before taking blood samples.

They found:

  • Seven foods had low GI: chebab bread, khameer bread, beef harees, chicken biryani, leqemat, khanfaroosh and habba hamra.
  • Six were classified as medium GI: Arabic bread, chami, fish machbous, khabisa, batheetha and balalet.
  • Five had high GI values: regag bread, muhalla bread, fendal, beef thareed and arseyah.

Moreover, seven had a high glycaemic load—the measure for working out how different-sized portions of foods compare in terms of raising blood glucose levels. Six were ranked as “medium” and five as “low”.

This study provides GI and GL values of previously-untested traditional Emirati foods, which could prove a useful guide on dietary recommendations for the Emirati population,” said Dr Al-Dhaheri. 

In addition, these tables could be used as a guide for nutrition therapy planning and dietary management for dieticians in the UAE and other GCC countries.”

The study also involved researchers from Yong Loo School of Medicine in Singapore and Oxford University. 

The research team produced insights into why the test foods may have a particular GI value, saying: “Food choice should not solely depend on the GI value, as high fat content—especially saturated fats—defeats the purpose of choosing low-GI foods.

The findings of this study advocate attention to the nutritive value and health aspects of traditional desserts when establishing dietary guidelines for the UAE. Traditional desserts should be consumed in moderation, due to their medium-to-high glycaemic response.”

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