Deputy Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman made an embarrassing and surprising statement at a diabetes conference at Bar-Ilan University on Tuesday when he claimed that there is "no supervision" that informs diabetics what foods they can safely eat.
"Not all foods in stores are healthful for diabetics," said the Agudat Yisrael MK, who added that his ministry "will look into the possibility of putting a special label" on foods so diabetics will know what they may safely consume.
However, for the last 15 years, the Israel Diabetes Association (IDA) has been examining foods submitted by manufacturers who claim their products are suitable for diabetics.
The association has an easily recognizable star-like symbol on hundreds of different products made by numerous manufacturers that certify they can be consumed by diabetics as a replacement for regular versions of products - although not eaten in an unlimited amount.
Most of these products have no sugar at all or no sugar added to the natural product; rather, they have nutritional components that are a safer alternative to carbohydrates, fats, proteins and other components in ordinary food.
The manufacturer pays the association a fee for the service, and the label is widely recognized by diabetics and non-diabetics as well.
Asked to comment on Litzman's statement, the IDA said that it awards the symbol to all products sent for analysis that meet its criteria.
It added that "in one of our meetings with the deputy health minister, he himself told us that he is careful to buy food products with the association's label. He knows the association's label, thus his statement is not clear to us."
Purchasers of products with the IDA label, the association spokeswoman continued, "can be assured that these foods have a minimal amount of fat and sodium and no sugar or only a very small amount. If a diabetic eats them in the recommended amounts, one must omit something with the same [calorie] values according to recommendations of his dietitian."
A veteran professional in the health system who knows Litzman and insisted on anonymity offered this explanation for why the deputy minister had made such a statement:
"He has been under attack for his questionable policies and actions and received much criticism since taking over the ministry - from refusing to regard lower-brain death as the moment of death; declaring that some psychiatric hospitals should be segregated completely according to gender; balking at mental health reform; and now using a phone poll for initial approval to deduct money - for the first time - from the expansion of the basket of health services to finance his unrealistic plans to provide free dental care for children.
"So he has been firing carelessly in all directions to get favorable reactions and headlines when in fact some of his statements are not substantive."