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Myths & Misconceptions About Type 2 Diabetes

Like many health conditions, many myths and misconceptions exist about diabetes. Some are based on outdated medical information, some on folklore, some on wrong ideas about the causes of diabetes and the symptoms it may cause.

Diet myths about type 2 diabetes

Here are some common diet myths and misconceptions about type 2 diabetes.

Myth: If you have diabetes, you cannot enjoy food

If you have type 2 diabetes, you do not have to give up eating the foods you most enjoy. You can enjoy a menu of wonderful foods that are tasty and help you maintain healthy eating. Since everyone’s body responds differently to different kinds of foods, there is no “right” diet for people with diabetes. However, making healthy choices can help keep your blood glucose under control and reduce your risk of complications. Talk to your doctor and get a referral for a registered dietitian, who is also a diabetes educator, to help you figure out what foods and eating plan make the most sense for you and your treatment goals.1

Myth: Eating too much sugar causes diabetes

Although eating a diet that is high in sugar can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, eating too much sugar alone is not a cause of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is thought to result from a combination of genetics and other factors like obesity, diet, age, and inactivity.1

Myth: If you have diabetes, you should stay away from starchy foods like bread, potatoes, and pasta

Starchy foods, including bread, potatoes, and pasta, can be included as part of your healthy eating plan. In fact, these food types add some important nutrients to your meals. You should stick to breads, cereals, and pastas that are made of whole grains. You should also incorporate root and other starchy vegetables, such as yams, potatoes, peas, and corn, into your meals and snacks. The key is monitoring portion sizes and eating in moderation.2

Myth: People with diabetes should not eat sweets, including chocolate

People with diabetes can enjoy sweets, including chocolate, as long as they are eaten in small portions in the context of a healthy, well-balanced eating plan. Just remember that if you are aiming for a certain amount of calories in your eating plan, by eating sugar you are replacing healthier carbohydrates. So, make sure to keep your sugar consumption to a minimum.2

Myth: If you have diabetes, you can eat as much fruit as you want

Fresh fruit is an important part of a healthy eating plan. Fruits provide fiber as well as essential minerals and vitamins. However, they are a source of carbohydrates and can cause elevated blood glucose if you eat too much of them. Work with a registered dietitian to determine the amount, frequency, and kinds of fruit you should have in your healthy eating plan.3

Myth: Eating healthy foods will not increase your blood sugar

When it comes to eating, one useful rule of thumb is to practice moderation. Even healthy foods, such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, can cause your blood sugar to rise when you eat too much of them.

Treatment myths about type 2 diabetes

Here are some common treatment myths and misconceptions about type 2 diabetes.

Myth: If you have type 2 diabetes and your doctor says you need to start using insulin, it means you are not properly taking care of your diabetes

With type 2 diabetes, the body becomes resistant to insulin. Over time, the body produces less and less insulin. Oral medicines can help control blood glucose, but eventually, they may not be enough to keep levels in a healthy range. At this point, insulin is an important tool to get blood glucose to a healthy level.2

Myth: If you have diabetes, you should soak your feet daily

If you have diabetes, soaking your feet each day is not recommended and can lead to serious issues since diabetes is associated with foot problems. These problems are often due to loss of sensation in the feet (neuropathy), which increases the chances of undetected injuries, and the fact that wounds heal more slowly in people with diabetes. A healthy skin care routine can help prevent foot problems.4

Myth: Diabetes will not improve unless you lose a lot of weight

If you have diabetes, you do not have to lose a ton of weight to improve your health. Studies have shown that losing a modest amount of weight – 5 to 7 percent of your starting weight – can have positive benefits on your diabetes. If your starting weight is 200 pounds, that is 10 to 14 pounds.5,6

Myth: If you are sick and cannot eat, you do not have to take your diabetes medicines

If you are sick – even if you cannot eat – you should not skip your diabetes medicines. When you are sick, your body produces hormones that can increase your blood glucose. If you are sick, it is a good idea to check your blood glucose, even if it is usually controlled and you are not in the habit of checking it regularly. If you find that your blood glucose control is off, then you can discuss with your doctor the best approach to getting it under control. Also be alert for signs of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a serious complication of diabetes that can cause coma or even death. This happens when your body does not have enough insulin and starts breaking down fat as fuel. Call your doctor right away if you have signs of DKA, including confusion, fatigue, and nausea/vomiting.7

Myth: If you have diabetes, you should not exercise

Getting regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do if you have diabetes. Exercise has many benefits that are important in type 2 diabetes management, like controlling weight, lower blood pressure, and lowering harmful cholesterol levels. Plus, exercise lowers blood glucose levels and helps your body better respond to insulin. Even moderate exercise, like 30 minutes of brisk walking or a similar activity 5 days a week, can have major benefits.5

Other myths about type 2 diabetes

Here are other various myths and misconceptions about type 2 diabetes.

Myth: Type 2 diabetes is not a serious disease

Type 2 diabetes is a serious health problem with serious consequences. Data shows that diabetes causes more deaths per year than breast cancer and AIDS combined. Diabetes also increases your risk of health complications like heart attacks, strokes, vision problems, and kidney disease. However, the good news is that managing your diabetes can help you prevent or delay many of the complications associated with diabetes.2

Myth: People with diabetes are more likely to get colds or the flu

If you have diabetes, your chances of getting a cold or the flu (or other similar illnesses) is no greater than someone without diabetes. However, having diabetes can increase the chances for serious complications to develop if you have a cold or the flu. It is important to get your flu and pneumococcal vaccines and practice good hygiene to avoid getting a cold or the flu. Having a cold or the flu can also make it more difficult to control your diabetes.8

Myth: Pregnancy is not an option if you have diabetes

Decades ago, women with diabetes were often discouraged from becoming pregnant. However, this is no longer the case. Your pregnancy will be different from the pregnancy of someone who does not have diabetes, but advances have made it possible to have a normal pregnancy as long as you take a few precautions.

If you have diabetes and want to have a baby, you should make sure your blood glucose is well controlled before you get pregnant to reduce risks of complications for you and your baby. Once you become pregnant, you should work closely with your diabetes specialist and your OBGYN to maintain blood glucose control. If you develop diabetes while you are pregnant, you have gestational diabetes.9

Myth: People with diabetes always know when they have low blood sugar

Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) is a short-term complication that affects many people with type 2 diabetes. In most cases, a blood sugar level of 70 mg/dl or lower is considered hypoglycemia. Some people with diabetes who develop low blood sugar may not experience any symptoms. Typical symptoms include sweating, feeling anxious, pale skin, and an irregular or fast heartbeat. If left untreated, it can lead to confusion, visual problems, seizures, and loss of consciousness (coma). It requires immediate treatment by quickly getting your blood sugar back to normal, either with high-sugar foods or drinks, or medicine.10

Myth: It is possible to have just “a touch” of diabetes

There is no such thing as “a touch” of diabetes. If you have type 2 diabetes, you have a serious disease that requires careful monitoring and treatment to prevent serious health complications. However, you can have borderline type 2 diabetes, which is called prediabetes. If you have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, you went through a stage where you had borderline diabetes or prediabetes. The process that leads to the development of type 2 diabetes, involving insulin resistance and loss of the ability to produce insulin, develops over a period of 5 to 10 years before high blood sugar is detected.11

Myth: If you are overweight or obese, you will eventually develop type 2 diabetes

Being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. However, it alone is not the cause of type 2 diabetes. Other factors like family history, ethnicity, and amount of physical activity also play a role. If you are overweight or obese, losing weight – even a small amount – can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.2

Myth: You can catch diabetes from someone else

Diabetes is not a disease you can catch from another person. Type 1 diabetes is thought to result from a combination of genetics and some environmental factors that trigger the disease. Type 2 diabetes results from a combination of genetics and other factors, including extra weight or obesity, not eating a healthy diet, and inactivity.2

Myth: If you have diabetes, you cannot do certain jobs

If you have diabetes you can have nearly any career you want, with a few exceptions. Some jobs are restricted, mainly because of insulin dependence. These include commercial airline pilots and most positions in the military, though some people who are diagnosed with diabetes while serving in the military are allowed to remain enlisted. Advances in laws and medicine have removed barriers to employment in other fields.12

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Written by: Jonathan Simmons & Heather Morse | Last reviewed: October 2020.