Malay diabetics outstrip their Chinese and Indian counterparts when it comes to sugar intake and have the poorest cardiovascular health, in part due to their love of sweetened drinks.
This was one of the findings of a first-of-its-kind Asian study of some 300 Type II diabetes sufferers and their carbohydrate consumption patterns.
Beverages were highlighted as one reason for this difference, with the average daily refined-sugar intake being 53.1g for Malays, some 10g more than for Indians and nearly 15g more than for Chinese.
But across the board it was rice and rice dishes that were found to be the top contributor of carbohydrates.
Funded by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research's (A*Star's) Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences, the one-year study profiled the dietary habits of individuals with Type II diabetes.
It also sought to pinpoint the main sources of carbohydrates in each ethnic diet and their corresponding glucose levels.
Current nutritional recommendations for locals with Type II diabetes are based on Western diets.
"This prompted us to take a closer look at the carbohydrate intakes and to assess what are the parts of the diet that can be targeted to manage diabetes," said Assistant Professor Eric Khoo from the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, who headed the study.
Doctors say many don't realise that sugar is also present in carbohydrates, raising blood-sugar levels.
"They will say I don't take sugar in my coffee and they are quite surprised when I explain that it is in their rice and noodles," said Dr Khoo.
Others think increased physical activity alone is enough for weight loss.
"If exercise is the only thing you do, then the tendency is for the weight to remain neutral," said Associate Professor Tai E Shyong from the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine.
Jayven Low, a dietician at Eat Right Nutrition Consultancy, said it is hard to escape carbs as local delights like nasi lemak, chicken rice and nasi briyani are huge sources.
"But white rice can be swopped for brown rice instead, as the additional fibre will slow digestion and prevent a spike in blood-sugar levels," he said.
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