A recent clinical trial published in the journal Diabetologia offers hope for the alarming number of U.S. children and adolescents who are developing diabetes. After one week on a restricted 600-calorie a day diet, a group of type 2 diabetics had restored their normal blood sugar levels. After two months, all had reversed the condition, and after three months, 64 percent remained diabetes free.

The study, conducted on 11 adults who developed diabetes later in life, took to a diet of liquids and non-starchy vegetables. Over eight weeks their fat levels in the liver and pancreas decreased, allowing the pancreas to again produce insulin. (Read the complete research [PDF].)

The study clarifies the key link that nutrition and wellness play in combating what was once thought to be an irreversible disease.In the United States, there are 25.8 million children and adults—8.3 percent of the population—who have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). But it's not just the United States that has a problem. European studies showed an increase in the frequency of type 1 diabetes in young children. Type 1 diabetes, where too little or too much insulin is produced in the body, is usually diagnosed at 40 years of age or older, and researchers so far have no clear link for the rise.

Type 2 diabetes, however, is known to be triggered by obesity and inactivity and it's increasing at alarming rates worldwide among children, making it the "disease formerly known as adult-onset diabetes." It's now the most common form of diabetes and African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders are more at risk to develop it. The World Health Organization estimates that worldwide almost 3 million deaths per year are attributable to diabetes.

Opportunities for supplements and functional foods

Growing alongside the rise of diabetes is the market for supplements and functional foods and beverages to help manage the disease. According to Nutrition Business Journal estimates, U.S. consumer sales of supplements for diabetes reached $1.0 billion in 2010 on 6 percent growth over 2009 sales levels.

This growth is a large jump from just four years ago. In 2007, NBJ reported that diabetes-specific supplement sales were $666 million. How does supplements spending fit into the larger picture? Also in 2007, the last year for which the American Diabetes Association has published data, the United States spent $218 billion on all medical expenditures related to the disease.

It's clear that the nutrition industry continues to plays a key role in providing blood sugar management solutions. In 2008, Terry Labs unveiled GlySync, a purified juice from the Nopal cactus that was found to reduce blood sugar by 18 percent and serium insulin by 50 after 180 minutes. NBJ reported that the product was being prospected for fruit juices and tortillas. Terry Lab's core business is aloe vera, and after finding out the amount of work it would take to pursue specific health claims, they handed the product back over to Aloe Queen, the manufacturer, to market it.

Where is the ingredient now? CEO Raul Lopez, who has been working with the Nopal plant for 20 years, said the company has seen 20 percent growth each year since 2008 for GlySync. The ingredient is added to drinks and encapsulated in solo form and as an herb blend. "It's all word of mouth; we haven't aggressively done any marketing with it," he said. "To our surprise, our biggest market for diabetes application has been overseas," he added, noting 85 percent of GlySync sales are exports to countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia where there is high incidence of type 2 diabetes.

Aloe Queen is currently working on a GlySync flour blend to target tortillas, a staple of the Mexican American diet. The ingredient adds no flavor or texture change and stabilizes blood sugar after tortilla consumption. Lopez cautions, though, that a type 1 diabetic on insulin who might eat this tortilla could risk becoming hypoglycemic.

Functional revolution in baked goods for diabetics

The diabetes epidemic also has led to innovation in healthy, alternative sweeteners in baked goods, reported Functional Ingredients magazine earlier this year. Natural sweeteners such as erythritol, inulin, xylitol and isomalt are increasingly used in baked goods for those looking to manage blood sugar levels.

It's no longer just about sugar, though. Prebiotic fibers and other functional ingredients help to control carbohydrate intake, another important part of managing the disease. The Western diet is high in carbohydrates and baked goods, and the truth is many people may not be amenable to an extremely restricted diet in order to reverse their condition.

Bakeries and bakery suppliers are taking up the slack to offer solutions for diabetics to continue to enjoy sweets in a healthy way. There are currently eight, entirely sugar-free, bakeries in the United States that cater to diabetics, such as Just Delicious Diabetic Delights in Clackamas, Ore.

Collaboration among the blood sugar management industry is crucial for meeting the needs of diabetics. In 2009, the bakery contacted BakeMark, a fine bakery ingredient and supplies manufacturer, and asked if it could remove the maltitol sweetener from its cake base product because it was causing distress to customers who are sensitive to the corn-based sweetener. In nine months, BakeMark reformulated the product. This nimble response is good for business and good for diabetics who want to have their cake and eat it, too.