Overturning decades of advice, a German public health agency recently said that diabetics should resume eating ordinary sugar, and that special foods for diabetics have no value.
The ruling was issued by the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment BfR in Berlin.
It said new research showed it was more important for diabetics to obtain vitamins and roughage by eating fruit and vegetables daily.
Diabetes mellitus comprises two diseases, type 1 and type 2, both typified by potentially dangerously high levels of sugar in the blood and urine.
The BfR said doctors' orders to completely eliminate ordinary sugar from the daily diet and switch to foods sweetened with fructose and other sugars instead had been wrong. More and more research studies among Americans are linking high fructose intake (often in the form of soft drinks that contain high-fructose corn syrup) to obesity.
South African dietician Dr Ingrid van Heerden agreed with the ruling, noting that the American Diabetic Association as well as the Association for Dietetics in South Africa have been saying for several years that small amounts of sugar in the diabetic diet wouldn't cause any harm.
Diabetic food doesn't fulfil purpose
In a blow to the industry that supplies special "diabetic foods", the BfR said it would not set standards for such foods because they did not fulfil their purpose. Many other foods were just as beneficial to diabetics.
Once again, Van Heerden agreed with this statement, explaining that many diabetic foods have a very high energy and fat content.
However, the blessing for sugar should not be taken as an invitation to indulge indiscriminately in cakes, sweets or chocolate.
According to the announcement, every sufferer had to adopt a sensible and moderate diet and reduce weight if necessary. "Diabetics can eat small amounts of sugar according to their diet prescription," Van Heerden said. "If you eat a little bit of sugar with your cereal, it will count as one of your carbohydrate portions for the day."
BfR president Andreas Hensel called for changes to EU food labelling so diabetics could see the sugar, fat, roughage and salt content of all foods.
The BfR recommendation said other prohibitions for diabetics remained in place: they should avoid greasy sausages, fatty cheeses, chocolate, cream cakes and potato crisps and eat low-fat dairy products instead.
Both types of diabetes mellitus are caused by malfunctioning of insulin production or efficiency, which leads to problems in metabolising protein, fats and carbohydrates. Therapy should aim to restore proper blood-fat levels, blood pressure and body weight.
(Sapa and Wilma Stassen)
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