SINGAPORE (Mar 18): If anyone had told Alan Phua not to play with his food when he was a kid, he certainly did not listen. As the “Master Builder”, or co-founder, of start-up ­Alchemy Foodtech, his job is to tinker with food. And he will not be happy until he has achieved his goal of making white rice, bread and flour safer for diabetics to consume.

For Phua, diabetes is a disease that hits close to home. Both his grandmothers died from complications arising from diabetes, and five of his mother’s six siblings have the disease. Right off the bat, he recites some shocking statistics: There is one death from diabetes complications every six seconds and an estimated 425 million diabetics worldwide today. In 2016 alone, 1.6 million deaths were due to diabetes. By 2040, the world’s diabetes population is expected to reach 642 million.

Type 2 diabetes is a lifestyle-related chronic disease caused by excessive levels of glucose in the blood, owing to the body’s ineffective use of insulin. It is largely associated with being overweight, having a poor diet and a lack of activity. High blood-glucose levels over time lead to nerve damage (which could result in amputations), kidney failure and blindness. A majority of diabetics are type 2.

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