BANGKOK — Junta leader. Songwriter. Bookworm. Nutritionist?

After his Tuesday cabinet meeting, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha urged Thais to choose locally-grown stevia over sugar for the health benefits when cooking.

“Shops cook such sweet foods that Thais have become addicted to sugar. This results in mass diabetes and other diseases that require lots of expensive care,” Prayuth said. “So prevent what can be prevented.”

Instead of sugar, the junta leader recommended Thai cooks, as well as drink corporations, experiment with stevia instead. Stevia, or stevia rebaudiana, is a shrub with sweet leaves used as a non-caloric sugar substitute.

Thai farmers have recently started to grow local stevia. La-ong Sriwanna, a farmer from Samoeng district, Chiang Mai, switched from rice farming to growing stevia and reports that a tea mixture of stevia leaves and jasmine flowers is one of her most profitable products.

Both cooked and processed Thai food can be laden with excess sugar, salt, and fat. The government attempted to tackle the issue with healthy food labels starting in 2017. According to the International Diabetes Federation, more than 8 percent of Thai adults had diabetes in 2017 – affecting more than 4.2 million – resulting in about 44,000 diabetes-related deaths that year. To compare, the US has a rate of 13 percent, affecting more than 30 million adults.

Waistlines across Thai society are expanding: one in 10 thai children are overweight, the health ministry announced in March. Porky cops nationwide are being sent to a diet and training camp in Nakhon Ratchasima to work off the weight. Even monks are gaining flub by snacking on unhealthy alms.

Prayuth Urges Thais to Use Stevia When Cooking
La-ong Sriwanna, right, with her stevia plants.

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