10 Diabetes and Nutrition Myths

Healthcare professionals could probably put together a list of 1,000 myths and inaccuracies surrounding diabetes, and new ones pop up regularly in patient interactions. Nutrition inaccuracies may not rise to the level of mythical, but in this information age there is a self-proclaimed expert around every turn.

Some myths and inaccuracies are relatively harmless, but others — like claims an herbal remedy can replace real medication — can have serious consequences. Likewise, broad generalizations can be dangerous, unnecessarily discouraging, or even insulting.

This list includes a few inaccuracies about diabetes, a couple about nutrition, and the rest about nutrition and diabetes. The most important message from any list of myths and inaccuracies is to be sure you get the right information from credible sources before you believe anything as fact.

When you have diabetes, there's no hope

Nothing is as discouraging as helplessness, and where diabetes is concerned, nothing is as inaccurate as the notion that a tragic ending is inevitable. But, at precisely the time when gathering the motivation to address diabetes is so important, this inaccuracy sends the most counter-motivating message possible.

The truth, of course, is that diabetes can be effectively managed with a combination of medication and lifestyle, especially diet and exercise. It does demand attention, and positive motivation is essential. But, there is no inevitable bad ending, and the person with diabetes has the power to influence the outcome in remarkable ways.

Managing diabetes requires a special diet

The truth is that a diet effective for managing diabetes is a diet much closer to normal than the diet too many people currently eat. In fact, the term Western diet, the high-fat and high-calorie eating that's become standard for many Americans, is the diet medical and public health professionals consider as special — for its overwhelmingly negative effects on health.

An eating plan to manage diabetes effectively includes an incredibly broad and balanced selection of delicious foods, prepared to improve overall health. There are no special foods, and no expensive foods — eating healthy for diabetes health is simply making wiser choices.

Drinking whole milk gives you more nutrients and calcium than skim milk

The truth is that switching from whole milk to skim, or to 1 percent, reduces the saturated fat and the calories that fat brings along — period. The natural calcium in whole milk and skim (or low-fat) milk is the same, the vitamin D content is the same (vitamin D is an added ingredient in milk), and the carbohydrate content is the same. Switching from whole milk to no-fat or low-fat milk is a profoundly positive switch for better nutrition.

Type 1 diabetes is "bad" diabetes

There are surely many aspects of type 1 diabetes that make it more inconvenient than type 2, and people with type 1 are more at risk for dangerously extreme high or low blood glucose levels. But, labeling type 1 as bad diabetes clearly implies that type 2 diabetes is not such a big deal. The truth — type 2 diabetes is a big deal in its own right, and failing to take it seriously is a mistake.

Carbohydrates make you fat

This statement is simply wrong. Popular culture is in a constant search for the simple solution to weight loss, and the ironic thing is that the real solution is relatively simple. Excess calories are stored as fat in your body, whether the calories come from carbohydrate, protein, fat, or even alcohol. Excess calories make you fat — period.

Vegetables are always healthier raw than cooked

As with most myths, there's sometimes a kernel of truth, and some vegetables do lose nutrients when cooked. Other foods, like tomatoes, are more nutritious when cooked — even better when processed at high temperatures for canning. And, the fiber content of some vegetables actually is higher in cooked versus raw, too. A good rule of thumb is to steam or microwave vegetables to reduce nutrient loss. The bottom line is to eat more low-carbohydrate-containing vegetables cooked or raw.

Type 1 diabetes is genetic, type 2 diabetes is from being overweight

More kernels of truth mask the real story. Type 1 diabetes does have a genetic component, and excess weight is a clear risk factor for type 2 diabetes. But, the genetic component for type 2 diabetes is actually stronger than for type 1 diabetes, and some people — even some entire ethnic groups — can have a high risk for type 2 diabetes without being overweight.

The real difference between type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes is that the body is attacking and killing its own insulin producing cells in type 1 diabetes — an autoimmune disease — and the result is having virtually no ability to produce insulin. Type 2 diabetes begins with plenty of naturally produced insulin that is not working in a normal way. And, no single specific cause has been found for either type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

Foods with a low glycemic index value don't affect blood glucose

Carbohydrate foods with a low glycemic index value digest more slowly, and release glucose into your bloodstream more slowly than foods with a high glycemic index value. But, all carbohydrate foods affect blood glucose. When people have a normal insulin response, insulin may be able to efficiently counteract the slow rise in blood glucose from low glycemic index foods. People with diabetes do not, by definition, have a normal insulin response. Low glycemic foods are recommended and generally healthier for everyone, but the blood glucose response is different in every person with diabetes — count the carbohydrates as you would any other food, and test your blood glucose levels after eating to know for sure.

It's insulin that causes diabetes complications

This myth is not only illogical, but scientifically proven wrong. Many people with type 2 diabetes resist their doctor's recommendation to begin insulin therapy based upon this incorrect belief (people with type 1 have no choice about whether to take insulin or not). Insulin is the most effective option for controlling blood glucose levels — it is, after all, how your body controls blood glucose levels when healthy. High average blood glucose levels and poor cardiovascular health habits are the cause of diabetes related complications, not insulin.

People with diabetes can't eat sweets

Sweets — sugars — are carbohydrates, and managing diabetes well does mean managing carbohydrates in your diet. But, people with diabetes can eat sweets.

The real questions are how often, and what kinds of sweets represent good choices. The question of how often is addressed in every healthy eating guide, including the current USDA MyPlate — sweets should make up a relatively small percentage of everyone's diet. With diabetes, sweets raise blood glucose levels like any carbohydrate food, and must fit into your daily carbohydrate budget. But, sweets are one of life's enjoyments, and a diabetes eating plan has room for wise choices, which include foods and drinks with nutritional value coming along with sugar. Foods like regular soft drinks, for example, are called empty calories and carbohydrates because of their zero nutritional value.

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