Exploring diabetes: Part two – Dispelling myths and misconceptions

There are many myths associated with diabetes that make it difficult for people to understand some of the realities of this disease.

Letters on sticks that spell out
Photo: Pexels/Artem Podrez.

This is part of an article series on diabetes. Part one can be viewed here, and part three can be viewed here.

There are countless misconceptions related to diabetes. A person newly diagnosed with this disease may not fully understand what type of diabetes they have and might have uncertainty about what to expect. Unfortunately, misbeliefs about the disease can cause a greater stigma and misunderstanding of how to manage it.

Diabetes can be manageable, and often does not need to be a major disability if a person works with their healthcare team and can learn how to apply healthy skills into their daily life. Small, necessary changes can keep blood sugar levels in a healthier range and make a big difference.

To better understand this disease, it is important to debunk common myths associated with diabetes.

Myth: Diabetes isn’t a serious disease. 

Fact: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) diabetes affects over 37 million people in the United States and is the eighth leading cause of death in this country.  The risk of a heart attack nearly doubles for people with diabetes. The good news is that effective diabetic management practices can help reduce your risk of complications.

Myth: Eating too much sugar causes diabetes.  

Fact: A diet high in calories, from any source, can lead to weight gain which is one of the risk factors associated with diabetes. However, many other risk factors are associated with this disease, such as a person’s genetics and age. There is research linking the consumption of sugary drinks to diabetes; the CDC recommends limiting intake of beverages such as regular soda, fruit punch and energy/sports/fruit drinks to help prevent the onset of diabetes.  

Myth: People with diabetes need to eat special foods.

Fact: The Mayo Clinic suggests developing a healthy eating plan that consists of healthier carbohydrates, fiber-rich foods, heart healthy fish and good fats. Foods to cut back on, or avoid, include those that contain saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol and sodium. Decreasing the number of processed foods for more whole foods (less processed) is a good first step.

Myth: People with diabetes can’t eat carbohydrates or starchy foods.

Fact: Starchy foods are a form of carbohydrates, along with sugar and fiber, which provide the body with a source of energy. Everyone needs some carbohydrates in their body. Keeping your blood glucose levels in a safe range includes knowing how much healthy food to eat. For people with diabetes, the American Diabetes Association recommends incorporating the Diabetes Plate Method, which includes one-quarter (25%) carbohydrate foods, one-quarter (25%) protein foods, and one-half (50%) non-starchy vegetables, along with a glass of water or zero-calorie drink.

Myth: People with diabetes cannot have salt.

Fact: High blood pressure is a leading cause of heart disease.  People with diabetes are more likely to have high blood pressure, so it is advantageous to cut back on sodium intake. Sodium is needed in the diet only in small amounts to stay healthy. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends no more than 2,300 mg (one teaspoon) of sodium each day. Foods containing high levels of sodium include canned soup, cold-cut meats, condiments and canned vegetables.

Myth: Diabetes can be cured.

Fact: According to Joslin Diabetes, people diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes can bring blood glucose levels back into a healthy range with lifestyle changes, but the body’s beta cells and genetic factors will always stay static. Foods claiming to cure diabetes like apple cider vinegar, cinnamon, turmeric and others may add healthful benefits to the body, but cannot cure the disease. Be wary of anything claiming to be a fast fix. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

It’s important to remember that having diabetes does not mean that a person’s quality of life will decrease. If you or a loved one has diabetes, work towards enjoying healthy foods, incorporating physical activity into your daily routine. Consult a dietitian or certified diabetes educator at your local hospital to help plan meals and understand what is needed to control blood glucose levels.

Michigan State University Extension also offers programs on managing and preventing diabetes; for more information, visit our Diabetes website.

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