CHERYL MUSSATTO MS, RD, LD
Diabetes is becoming more of an epidemic than ever. The number of individuals diagnosed and undiagnosed with diabetes is estimated to be at 29.1 million people or 9.3 percent of the population in the United States. We all know of someone with this disease and how hard it can be to follow the pattern of eating meant to keep diabetes in control. Diet, or the way a person eats, is the cornerstone of treating this condition but sometimes there is conflicting advice on how to go about that. Let’s dispel some of those myths regarding diabetes:
Fallacy: Sugar causes diabetes
Fact – Sugar alone by itself does not cause diabetes. Sugar is a simple carbohydrate easily broken down into glucose in the digestive tract, absorbed quickly into the bloodstream, causing blood sugar (blood glucose) to rise. All carbohydrates break down into glucose. Glucose is necessary for normal functioning of the brain and other body tissues. As glucose levels rise, the pancreas secretes the hormone insulin, necessary to remove glucose from the bloodstream and into the cells of the body. When the body is not producing sufficient insulin or the insulin is defective, blood glucose or sugar levels rise and remain elevated leading to diabetes. The origin of diabetes is complex with many factors leading to its cause – family history, ethnicity, age along with lifestyle factors such as gaining too much weight and lack of physical activity. Consuming foods or beverages with a lot of sugar causes blood sugar levels to rise but also adds too many calories, causing weight gain. Gaining too much weight will raise the risk of type 2 diabetes. The focus should be on preventing weight gain or losing weight if overweight to obese, increasing physical activity and keeping sugar intake in moderation.
Fallacy: People with diabetes have to eat special food
Fact – A person with diabetes does not have to eat special diabetic or “dietetic” foods – they often are more expensive and offer no special benefits. They can eat the same foods as anyone else as long as they are consuming a healthy diet made up of plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meat, legumes, healthy fats and low-fat dairy. What needs to be kept to a minimum is their intake of food high in saturated fat, trans fat, sugar and salt.
Fallacy: Diabetics cannot eat any desserts or sweets
Fact – As long as they keep the portion size very small, they can occasionally eat a dessert or sweets such as cookies or even chocolate. The majority of their calories need to come from a healthy diet, along with adequate exercise to help use up excess blood sugar.
Fallacy: Honey is better for diabetics than sugar
Fact – Since honey is made by bees, people associate it as being healthier than using table sugar. Honey is still a sugar, and has slightly more carbohydrates and more calories per teaspoon than table sugar. Once ingested into the body, it acts no differently than table sugar, causing blood sugar levels to rise. It can be used by diabetics if they prefer but it should be used in moderation.
Fallacy: It’s really not that important to check your blood sugar levels daily
Fact – Checking blood sugar levels daily is essential in keeping diabetics in a healthy range. This quick, easy tool gives immediate feedback whether blood sugar is too high or too low, so adjustments in food intake, physical activity or medications can be made, helping to reduce the risk of health problems. Diabetes is a serious disease that raises the risk of numerous health complications such as heart attacks, stroke, blindness, poor circulation, poor wound healing, numbness or tingling in the extremities, amputations and kidney failure. Your physician will tell you how frequently you need to check your blood sugar and what range it should be in.
Fallacy: People with diabetes should only use artificial sweeteners instead of sugar
Fact – Sugar-free foods or foods containing artificial sweeteners are not necessarily calorie-free or carbohydrate-free. Always read the label looking at the amount of calories and how many grams of carbohydrates are in the product. Some artificial sweeteners do contain calories and can affect your blood sugar by causing it to rise. In addition, artificial sweeteners consumed in large quantities may have a laxative effect and may cause weight gain due to possibly increasing cravings for sweetened foods.
If diagnosed with diabetes, always follow your doctor’s advice and meet with a registered dietitian who will work with you to develop a healthy eating pattern to keep your blood glucose levels in control. If you suspect you have diabetes, see your doctor right away – the sooner treatment begins with you understanding how to reduce complications, the greater chance you will have to lead a long, healthy life.
Graphic: The Diabetes Food Pyramid, developed by A.D.A.M., Inc., divides food into six groups, which vary in size to show relative amounts of servings for each group. The pyramid differs from the Food Guide Pyramid released by the USDA. In the Diabetes Food Pyramid, the groups are based on protein content and carbohydrates instead of their food classification.
Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian and an adjunct professor at Allen Community College, Burlingame, and Butler County Community College, Council Grove; she teaches Basic Nutrition and Therapeutic Nutrition. She is also a certified health and wellness coach, and a consulting dietitian for the Cotton O’Neil Clinic in Osage City. She writes Eat Well to Be Well, a column about health and nutrition, and is a blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi at www.samadimd.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit her website www.eatwell2bewellrd.com, or like “Eat Well 2 Be Well” on Facebook.