Actions against diabetes must be based on science

If we want to succeed in the diabetes fight, the tough actions considered need to be based on science. Better understanding and education help to galvanise us to support government initiatives, and to make informed personal choices.

In the discussion about sugar tax, it is very unfortunate that white rice, kway teow and bee hoon got thrown into the same pot as sugar - with the assertion that they should also be taxed if we want to target excess sugar (War on diabetes will have effect on 'innocent' bystanders; Dec 6).

Carbohydrates that we consume - such as rice and green vegetables, are digested into glucose that our body uses. For most of us, when we say sugar, we mean the white sugar that we put into our drinks. This is called sucrose, and it consists of roughly equal portions of glucose and fructose.

Unlike glucose, fructose is digested by only our liver. So, our liver has to deal with all the fructose that we eat.

Sugar-sweetened beverages are especially problematic because they present an instantaneous massive load of fructose that our liver has to deal with.

The evidence is compelling that it is the excessive fructose intake that is associated with a host of medical conditions such as non-alcoholic liver disease, obesity and diabetes.

So it pays to be very specific about the type of sugar in our discussion.

Another narrative that does not help in advancing our understanding is the mixing up of the diabetic and non-diabetic population, and making no distinction between them in terms of actions.

For those people who are diabetic or pre-diabetic, their body's ability to deal with carbohydrates is already impaired.

They should be under medical care and need to be careful with all carbohydrates, including sugar, rice and even vegetables and fruits.

For those who are non-diabetic, there is no reason why their bodies cannot deal with the digested glucose that comes from eating carbohydrates such as rice.

Leung Hon Yew

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2018, with the headline 'Actions against diabetes must be based on science'. Print Edition | Subscribe