Diabetes myth and misconceptions

Ask the Expert: Myth and Misconceptions (Part 1)

In honor of Diabetes Awareness Month, we asked our team of experts to discuss what myths they commonly see surrounding type 2 diabetes. Hopefully, by spreading awareness and building understanding, we can eliminate these misconceptions and some of the stigma associated with T2D. Here’s what our experts Kelly Dabel and Joanne Lyford had to say:

This is the first part of our Myths and Misconceptions series. Click here for part two to hear from our experts, Connie and Meryl.

Kelly’s Response:

MYTH: “You can’t eat that, you’re a diabetic.” People with diabetes should only eat special “Diabetic foods”.

Every food can fit. The diabetic diet is a healthy, balanced diet that is a healthful way for nearly everyone to eat. Focusing on moderation and a wide variety of foods, the diabetic diet emphasizes low saturated fat, lean protein, moderate amounts of carbohydrate, that are preferably high in fiber, and a variety of fruits and vegetables. While it is best to avoid concentrated sources of sugar, such as regular soft drinks, candies, etc., there’s no need to buy foods specifically marketed as “diabetic”, “diet” or “diabetic-friendly”. A “diabetic-friendly” or “sugar-free” pancake mix, muffin or package of cookies, is still made with flour and still contains carbohydrates, that need to be counted. Sugar alcohols found in most “sugar-free” and “fat-free” foods often cause stomach upset and you will likely pay more money for them.

Instead, stick to whole foods. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store, focusing on lean meats, low-fat dairy, high-fiber grains, beans & legumes and fresh produce and buy less of the heavily processed foods typically found in the middle of the store. When you want to enjoy a cookie or treat, opt for a high-quality one that you can savor and enjoy as part of your meal. Count those carbohydrates with your meal. Plan ahead. Perhaps you’d rather have less potatoes at dinner to allow room in your carbohydrate count for a sweet treat. You are in control.

Help those closest to you learn that real food is best on the diabetic diet and really, as part of any healthy eating plan. Let your family and friends know that “sugar-free” foods are not the best for you and let them know what foods you’d prefer. Be your own advocate and help raise awareness in your circle. Following the diabetic diet doesn’t have to be restrictive and boring, you can make it what you want while staying within your carbohydrate goals.

MYTH: If you have diabetes, you only need to pay attention to sugar.

You need to pay attention to total carbohydrates! It’s not just sugar that raises blood sugar, it’s carbohydrates as a whole. Sugar is a type of carbohydrate but it’s not the only one. When reading a nutrition label, pay attention to “total carbohydrates”. Sugar is included in this number. I’ve heard people say, “I don’t need to count this apple pie because it’s made with calorie-free sweetener instead of sugar”. The truth is those apples and pie crust contain carbohydrate and still need to be counted in your total meal carb count. Likewise, I hear, “Oh I don’t add any sugar to my foods, so I don’t need to change anything”. Train yourself to think of foods in terms of total carbohydrate content and your meal planning and subsequent blood sugar levels, will be much more likely to match your goals.

The diabetic diet is one of moderation. Optimal blood glucose control comes from eating well-balanced snacks and meals every few hours. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you should never eat carbohydrates again because they raise your blood sugar. We all need carbohydrate foods throughout the day, the key is to eat the right amount without overdoing it.

MYTH: As long as I watch what I eat, I don’t need to worry too much about what I drink.

While most are counting carbohydrates for their meal, sometimes we forget to pay attention to what we’re drinking with our meal or sipping on throughout the day. Many of us are used to drinking milk, juice or regular soft drinks with our meals and we don’t think much of it. Or drinking sweetened coffee drinks every morning. In fact, these beverages are laden with carbohydrates and because they are in liquid form, the body absorbs them much more quickly than food, which can spike your blood sugar sky-high. While milk does offer some protein it still contains carbohydrates. Soft drinks and juices don’t offer much in the way of nutrition. Sports drinks, recovery drinks and some flavored waters fall under this category as well.

As we aim to bring blood sugar under control, it’s best to opt out of sugary drinks. Trade in your soft drink for a unsweetened, flavored, bubbly seltzer water or swap out that juice for some water with lemon or cucumber. Warm up with some unsweetened hot tea or try a lighter mixed coffee drink. While diet sodas don’t contain carbohydrates, they do contain artificial sweeteners, which can cause stomach upset and may even lead to low blood sugar as they cue the body to release insulin in response to the sweet taste. Smoothies and fresh squeezed juices should be consumed in moderation and it’s best to keep to mostly greens and add in some protein to curb sugar spikes. Ask your doctor about alcohol consumption and be aware that alcohol can impact blood sugar. If you have made changes to your eating habits and still find your blood sugar difficult to control, don’t forget to take a close look at what you’re drinking.

MYTH: All foods are created equal.

You may think that a hamburger is a hamburger no matter where you are. The truth is that foods vary enormously depending on where they were prepared. A burger made at home can have very different nutritional content than one from a restaurant. More often than not, it’s portion sizes that get us into trouble. Restaurants are notorious for serving large portions and we are conditioned to want bigger portions when we eat out to feel like we’re getting our money’s worth.

If you’re wondering why the pasta plate at a restaurant raised your blood sugar more than the pasta you ate at home, ask yourself, “Did I really eat the same type and amount?” Was the serving larger? Was the plate larger? Was the sauce different? Many restaurants serve on platters rather than standard-sized plates and add sugar to their sauces. When you do eat out, mentally plan ahead to save half the meal in a to-go container for lunch tomorrow. Also, don’t shy away from asking your server for the nutritional info for their menu. Nowadays, everyone is more aware of what they’re eating and restaurants are used to providing this helpful information.

When you cook foods at home, don’t shy away from seasoning with salt-free herbs and spices. Healthy food can be fun and flavorful! Use the same plate at home for awhile until you learn what a serving of any particular food looks like on it. For example, how many cups does your cereal bowl hold? Consider swapping out your dinner plates and eating off of a salad plate, so you can fill your plate with less food.

In addition to portion size, the type and quality of foods we choose matters. Choosing high quality lean protein, opting for high-fiber grains, and buying foods with no added salt or sugar, so you can control the level of seasoning and sweetness, are all ways to meet your meal plan goals.

Joanne’s Response:

MYTH: “Eating too much sugar causes diabetes”

Eating too much of any one food – including sugar – can’t be blamed for causing diabetes. All foods contain calories and eating too many calories from ANY food, can lead to weight gain. When weight gain leads to obesity, the risk for developing diabetes multiplies. Historically, dietary restriction of sugar has been common treatment for diabetes and that perception has stuck in the minds of the public for a long time. Diabetes treatment is evolving and changing as research helps us understand more and more about sugar’s impact. What hasn’t changed, is that a “diabetes diet” is a healthy eating pattern for anyone. The diet is low in saturated and trans fat, moderate in salt and sugar consumption, with meals based on lean protein, non-starchy vegetables, fruit, whole grains and healthy fats.

MYTH: “Borderline diabetes” isn’t serious.

Borderline diabetes is an old term for what we now call prediabetes – when blood sugar is higher than it should be but not in the diabetes range. According to the American Diabetes Association, before people develop type 2 diabetes, they almost always have “prediabetes” or impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) or impaired fasting glucose (IFG), depending on what test was used when it was detected. The danger of prediabetes is that there are no clear symptoms, so people who are at risk may not know they have it. Prediabetes is serious and if left untreated, it can turn into type 2 diabetes. Increasing physical activity and losing weight can help prediabetes blood sugars return to healthier levels and delay or prevent diabetes.

What myths and misconceptions have you heard about type 2 diabetes? Share with us in the comments below.

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