Diabetes Myths – Busted!

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Myth: Diabetes is not that serious of a disease.

Fact: In Malaysia, Diabetes Mellitus was ranked 5th place in the top 10 causes of death in Malaysia for 2005. The percentage is higher than stroke and hypertension.

Myth: You can catch diabetes from someone else.

Fact: No. Although we do not know why exactly some people develop diabetes, we know that diabetes is not contagious. It cannot be caught like a cold or flu. There seems to be some genetic link in diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes. Poor lifestyle habits also play a part.

Myth: If you have type 2 diabetes and your doctor says you need to start using insulin, it means you have failed to take care of your diabetes properly.

Fact: For most people, type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease. When first diagnosed, many people with type 2 diabetes can keep their blood glucose at a healthy level with oral medications. But over time, the body gradually produces less and less of its own insulin, and eventually oral medications may not be enough to keep blood glucose levels normal. Using insulin to get blood glucose levels to a healthy level is a good thing, not a bad one.

Myth: Eating Too Much Sugar Causes Diabetes.

How does diabetes happen? The causes are not totally understood. What is known is that simply eating too much sugar is highly unlikely to cause diabetes. Instead, diabetes begins when something disrupts your body’s ability to turn the food you eat into energy.

To understand what happens when you have diabetes, keep these things in mind: Your body breaks down much of the food you eat into glucose, a type of sugar needed to power your cells. A hormone called insulin is made in the pancreas. Insulin helps the cells in the body use glucose for fuel.

Here are the most common types of diabetes and what researchers know about their causes:

  • Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas cannot make insulin. Without insulin, sugar piles up in your blood vessels. People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin to help get the sugar into the cells. Type 1 diabetes often starts in younger people or in children. Researchers say that it may occur when something goes wrong with the immune system.
  • Type 2 diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not make enough insulin, the insulin does not work properly, or both. Being overweight makes type 2 diabetes more likely to occur. It can happen in a person of any age.
  • Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy in some women. Hormone changes during pregnancy prevent insulin from working properly. Women with gestational diabetes usually need to take insulin. The condition may resolve after birth of the child.

Myth: You Can Adjust Your Diabetes Drugs to “Cover” Whatever You Eat.

If you use insulin for your diabetes, you may learn how to adjust the amount and type you take to match the amount of food you eat. But this doesn’t mean you can eat as much as you want, then just use more drugs to stabilise your blood sugar level.

If you use other types of diabetes drugs, do not try to adjust your dose to match varying levels of carbohydrates in your meals unless instructed by your doctor. Most diabetes medications work best when they are taken consistently as directed by your doctor.

Myth: People with diabetes cannot eat sweets, chocolates and desserts

Fact: If eaten as part of a healthy meal plan, or combined with exercise, sweets and desserts can be eaten by people with diabetes. Sweet food are no more “off limits” to people with diabetes than they are to people without diabetes. The key is to have a very small portion and save them for special occasions so you focus your meal on more healthy food.

You can develop many strategies for including desserts in a diabetes diet. Here are some examples:

  • Use artificial sweeteners in desserts.
  • Cut back on the amount of dessert. For example, instead of two scoops of ice cream, have one. Or share a dessert with a friend.
  • Use desserts as an occasional reward for following your diabetes diet plan.
  • Make desserts more nutritious. For example, use whole grains, fresh fruit, and vegetable oil when preparing desserts. Many times, you can use less sugar than a recipe calls for without sacrificing taste or consistency.
  • Expand your dessert horizons. Instead of ice cream, pie, or cake, try fruit, a whole-wheat oatmeal-raisin cookie, or yogurt.

Myth: Fruits are healthy therefore it is ok to eat as much of it as you wish.

Fact: Fruit is a healthy food. It contains fiber and lots of vitamins and minerals. Because fruits contain carbohydrates, they need to be included in your meal plan. However, consult your dietitian about the amount, frequency and types of fruits you should eat as the levels of ingredients differ from one fruit to the other.

Myth: Carbohydrates Are Bad for Diabetes & Protein is better

In fact, carbohydrates, or “carbs”, are good for diabetes. They form the foundation of a healthy diabetes diet, and any healthy diet for that matter.
Carbohydrates have the greatest effect on blood sugar levels, which is why you are asked to monitor how much carbohydrates you eat when following a diabetes diet.

However, carbohydrate food contain many essential nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and fiber. So one diabetes diet tip is to choose those with the most nutrients, such as whole-grain breads and baked goods, and high-fiber fruits and vegetables. A dietitian will be able to advice you on which carbs are the best for you.

Because carbs affect blood sugar levels so quickly, if you have diabetes, you may be tempted to eat less of them and substitute more protein. But too much protein may lead to problems for people with diabetes.

The main problem is that many foods rich in protein, such as meat, may also be filled with saturated fat. Eating too much of these fats increases your risk of heart disease. In a diabetes diet, protein should account for about 15% to 20% of the total calories you eat each day.

Myth: You Have to Give Up Your Favorite Foods.

There is no reason to give up your favorite foods if you are on a diabetes diet. Instead, try:

  • Changing the way your favorite foods are prepared
  • Changing the other foods you usually eat along with your favorite foods
  • Reducing the serving sizes of your favorite foods
  • Using your favorite foods as a reward for following your meal plans

A dietitian can help you find ways to include your favorites in your diabetes meal plans.

Myth: People with diabetes should eat special diabetic foods.

Fact: A healthy meal plan for people with diabetes is generally the same as a healthy diet for anyone – low in fat (especially saturated and trans fat), moderate in salt and sugar, with meals based on whole grain foods, vegetables and fruit. Diabetic and “dietetic” foods generally offer no special benefit. Most of them still raise blood glucose levels, are usually more expensive and can also have a laxative effect if they contain sugar alcohols.

Now that we are aware of some myths vs facts on diabetes diet, we can start to take actions about making healthier and better food choices. Diet, together with exercise and medication, we can use what we eat as an effective tool for keeping our blood sugar levels within normal ranges.