Diabetic-friendly treats in Dubai

Learn more for World Health Organisation's Global Diabetes Day


Diabetes is a global health concern, yet it has particular resonance in the UAE because of the high diabetes statistics in the emirates. Last year the International Diabetes Federation stated that the UAE is tenth in a list of countries where the condition is a concern: it is now estimated that more than 40 percent of residents aged over 60 in the UAE have diabetes. There’s also concern that the younger generation is becoming affected by the condition as well. With the World Health Organisation’s global Diabetes Awareness Day taking place on Wednesday November 14, we decided to learn more about how eating habits can affect this condition.

There seems to be widespread agreement among local experts that our easy lifestyle in Dubai is part of the problem. Balance Café ayurvedic lifestyle consultant Chandy George and Nutrition Unlocked nutritionist Allison van Camp both cite the sedentary nature of the average working day in Dubai, as well as the reliance of many on a high-fat, fast food-packed diet, and large portion sizes in restaurants. ‘The restaurant issue is the same here as it is everywhere where there’s a major diabetes problem,’ says Allison. ‘Portion sizes are out of control – a problem referred to as “portion distortion”.’ Chandy agrees that more restaurants need to introduce healthy-eating options for those who would like to follow a balanced diet.

However, experts agree that the answer is the responsibility of the individual. ‘If we want to live a healthy, long life, we need to consider changing our way of thinking,’ explains Chandy, a sentiment echoed by Allison. ‘We can blame restaurants, junk food companies and clever marketers for our weight problems, but at the end of the day our health is our responsibility,’ she explains. ‘Though it’s a complex problem, the answer is simple: we need to move more, eat less, and focus on filling our plates with whole foods.’

We’ve learned that a diabetic-friendly diet isn’t just about watching your sugar intake – it’s also involves a wider awareness of healthy eating, including keeping an eye on the intake of carbohydrates and ‘bad’ fats, such as saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol. While a healthy diet is important for all diners, Allison says fibre and Omega-3 fatty acids have a particular benefit for diabetics, because high-fibre foods help to control blood sugar levels, while Omega-3 helps to fight inflammation in the body.

Under the watchful eye of Allison and Chandry, we’ve scouted out some delicious gourmet dessert recipes that stick to these well-rounded principles of diabetic-friendly dining. So whether you’re diabetic yourself or simply conscious of your general health and wellbeing, step into the kitchen and try these sweet-flavoured treats for some guilt-free enjoyment.

What to buy

If you’re trying to stick to a diabetic-friendly diet, take the advice of the experts and stock up on ‘good’ foods, while trying to avoid the ‘bad’.

Fructose sugar, honey and agave syrup.
Dark chocolate.
White meat such as lean chicken, or fish such as salmon, which is also high in Omega-3 fatty acids.
Brown rice.
Bitter melon.
Techniques to try: Steaming.

Refined sugars.
Processed chocolate with added fats and sugars.
Red meat.
Heavy carbohydrates.
Techniques to avoid: Frying and deep-fat frying.

Buttermilk panna cotta from Balance Café

(serves four to five)

For the panna cotta
1½ tbsp organic xanthan gum
½ cup semi-skimmed milk
1½ cups buttermilk
¼ teasp vanilla extract

For the blueberry compote
4 tbsp frozen blueberries
1 cinnamon stick
2 pieces star anise
½ cup water
50g fresh mixed forest berries


1 In a small bowl, sprinkle the xanthan gum over ¼ cup of water. Let it stand until softened – it should take about five minutes.

2 In a saucepan, heat the milk for three to five minutes on a medium heat, until it’s hot but not boiling.

3 Remove from the heat, stir in the xanthan mixture, then the vanilla and buttermilk. Pour into ramekins and chill for three hours, until set.

4 For the blueberry compote, place the frozen berries, cinnamon, star anise and water into a saucepan, then heat until the berries are soft and syrupy.

5 Once the panna cotta is set, run a knife around the edge of each ramekin. Place a plate on top, flip over the ramekin and gently shake to turn the panna cotta out onto the plate. Garnish with fresh berries and the blueberry compote.
Balance Café, Oasis Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 515 4051).

Skinny cupcakes from Kitsch Cupcakes

(serves six)

1 tbsp unsalted butter
¼ cup white sugar
2 tbsp low-calorie sweetener
1 egg
1 teasp vanilla essence
1 cup plain flour
½ teasp baking powder
¼ teasp baking soda
¾ cup low-fat milk
For the icing
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp low calorie sweetener
200g low fat cream cheese
1 teasp cocoa powder
2 tbsp low fat milk
1 tbsp diabetic dark chocolate
Additional cocoa powder to dust


1 Preheat the oven to 170°C.

2 Blend together the butter, sugar and sweetener until light and fluffy.

3 Add the egg and vanilla essence and continue to blend.

4 Sift together the plain flour, baking powder and baking soda and add to the wet mixture, mixing thoroughily. Then add the milk.

5 Pour the mixture into cupcake moulds or paper cases.

6 Place in the oven and bake for 15 minutes.

7 To make the icing, blend together the butter and sweetener until the mixture is smooth.

8 Mix in the cream cheese, making sure the consistency is light.

9 Sift the cocoa powder and add to the mixture, blending thoroughly until well combined.

10 Finally, add the milk and stir.

11 Once the cupcakes are cooked, take them out of the oven and allow to cool.

12 Pour the icing mixture into a piping bag.

13 Pipe the icing carefully and slowly in neat rings around the top of the cakes.

14 Sprinkle with the grated diabetic chocolate, dust with the additional cocoa powder and serve.
Kitsch Cupcakes, Jumeirah Beach Road, Umm Suqueim 1 (04 395 6963). Other location: DIFC (050 336 8280).

Orange poached pears from Madinat Jumeirah’s wellness chef Gabi

(serves two)

50g walnuts
3g cinnamon powder
100ml orange juice
20g kumquat
2 pears

1 Peel the pears and remove the seeds.

2 Place in a pan with the orange juice and cinnamon and simmer until soft, then leave to chill.

3 Slice the kumquats.

4 Crush the walnuts and arrange on the plate. Place the sliced kumquats over the walnut pieces, top with the pears and serve.
Madinat Jumeirah Resort, Umm Suqeim (04 366 8888).

Brown rice pudding from Bo House

(serves four)

1 litre milk
80g cornflour
25g low-calorie sweetener
5ml rose water
18g almond flakes
300g brown rice

1 Place the brown rice in a pan, add boiled water and cook on a high heat for approximately 50 minutes, or until most of the water is absorbed.

2 Add the rose water to the rice and stir well.

3 In a separate pan, bring the milk to the boil and add the sweetener.

4 Add the cooked rice and allow to cook for ten minutes while stirring.

5 After two to three minutes, add the cornflour and stir in thoroughly.

6 Leave to cool and garnish with the almonds before serving.
Bo House, The Walk, Dubai Marina (04 429 8655).

Where to eat out

There are several gourmet venues in Dubai that offer health-conscious menus for different requirements. Here’s out pick of four choices for a healthier night out.

Amala: Diabetics are encourage to avoid red meats in favour of lean chicken, fish or veggie options. Fine-dining venue Amala offers a promotion on Tuesday evenings, serving a menu of Indian veggie specialities.
Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, Palm Jumeirah (04 453 0444).

Balance Café: This venue takes a balanced look at overall health concerns, offering a healthy menu that uses the ancient Indian principles of ayurveda, as well as knowledge of modern nutritional science. If you have a specific dietary concern, you can even visit the café’s nutritionist.
Oasis Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 515 4051).

Carluccio’s: The venue is launching its diabetic menu this week, which includes dishes such as mozzarella and tomato salad, penne puttanesca and sautéed prawns. Other eateries across the Landmark Group have also introduced diabetic menus, including Mango Tree, Zafran and Wild Ginger.
Various locations including The Dubai Mall (04 434 1320).

Fountain Restaurant: The Food for Life evening takes place every Wednesday, inspired by the manager’s own attempt to live healthily while still eating well. The menu offers low-calorie dishes that are good for overall health.
Mövenpick Hotel Bur Dubai (04 310 4320).

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