PETALING JAYA: It is the excessive intake of calories and an unhealthy lifestyle, and not sugar directly, that's behind the rise of diabetes in Malaysia.
"There has been no evidence that consumption of sugar causes diabetes.
"However, I am of the view that excessive consumption is not desirable as it contributes to extra calories without any nutrients," said Nutrition Society Of Malaysia president Dr Tee E Siong, adding that bad eating habits were to blame.
"Diabetes is mainly caused by excessive intake of calories, where there is too much fat intake, immoderate intake of oil and refined carbohydrates, including sugar, and insufficient intake of plant foods, especially dietary fibre," he said.
Tee pointed out that a lack of physical activity was also a major contributing factor to one contracting this diabetes.
"Exercise helps the physical system to regulate the blood and keep the body as a whole in optimum condition. Regular physical activity may help to increase the glucose uptake and improve insulin sensitivity in muscle, thus leading to good glycemic control.
"Furthermore, vigorous and moderate physical activity such as brisk walking reduces the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes," he added.
He said that, ultimately, a total lifestyle improvement was of extreme importance in tackling the issue rather than any single factor.
On another note, Tee said the increase in sugar price might not actually help in making people consume less sugar but it can be one of the strategies that could eventually result in a low-sugar diet among Malaysians.
He also cautioned against regular use of artificial sugar substitutes.
"Although there are sugar substitutes, it would be better for people to reduce their liking for sweet foods. However, if they would still like to use sweeteners, there are clear regulations on their use," he added.
He said sweeteners permitted by the ministry have undergone thorough safety scrutiny and should be safe if they used in the normal amounts.
A statement by the Malaysian Dieticians Association said diabetes is caused when something disrupts the body's ability to turn the food consumed into energy.
"People with diabetes should also know that they actually can eat chocolates and sweets as long as these are part of a healthy meal plan and consumed in moderation.
"For example, regular sugar can be replaced with brown sugar, artificial sweeteners or even honey and desserts or sweets can be made an occasional treat instead of a closure to every meal," it said in a statement.
The association also said diabetics need not stick to special "diabetes food" but could consume regular food but in moderation.
Come join The Star, The Star Online and thousands of others on Nov 14 – World Diabetes Day 2013 – and pledge to reduce your daily sugar intake for a minimum one week.
From today until Nov 21, The Star Online will be running the Reduce Sugar Pledge campaign to raise awareness about the impact uncontrolled blood sugar levels can have on the large population of Malaysian pre-diabetics and diabetics.
You or your family can make pledges to control your blood sugar level during this period. With an estimated one-in-five Malaysians being diabetic, there’s a good chance this action might help save your life!
Just say it as it is; no sugar-coating required!
Take part in our interactive discussions on The Star Online’s official Twitter (@thestaronline) and Facebook pages (The Star Online) with #ReduceSugar. You can e-mail your pledge to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We'll also have many informative articles on diabetes during this period in both The Star and The Star Online website.
> Selected contributions will be published in the newspaper and online to encourage more people to adopt the pledge.