Five Diabetic Myths

five diabetes myths

Many people have diabetes, but there is a lot of misinformation about this disease. Get the facts straight about diabetes so you can take better care of yourself. We will discuss 5 common myths and why they are wrong.

Sugar causes diabetes

            The truth is, we don’t know what causes diabetes. There are risk factors, but sometimes people develop diabetes anyway (although this is rare). Your chances of getting diabetes increases if you are overweight, sit a lot, are older than 45, have a family history of diabetes, and are a certain race (such as African American or Hispanic). You can’t control age, race, or family history. But, by being active, practicing good portion control, maintaining a healthy weight, and selecting nutritious foods, you can lower the chances of getting diabetes [1].

Because I have diabetes, I can’t eat carbohydrates, bananas, or potatoes anymore

            Diabetes is a disease where you have high blood sugar. Because sugar comes from carbohydrates, you might think eating carbohydrates can cause your blood sugar to get too high. But in type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance—not carbohydrates—is the problem.  Normally insulin acts like a key to unlock your cells, letting sugar in to provide an energy source for the body. But with insulin resistance, insulin doesn’t work because extra fat gets stuck in your cells’ lock. The more fat in your diet, especially saturated fat, the harder it is for insulin to unlock your cell doors [2].

            Eating a diet with a focus on plants, including plenty of colorful vegetables, fruits, plant-based proteins such as beans, and whole grains (brown rice, whole grain pasta and breads, quinoa, plain oatmeal, and popcorn) can help manage your diabetes [3]. Many foods from plants are high in carbohydrates but can help improve blood sugars because plants help reverse insulin resistance [2]. This gets to the root cause of what is causing type 2 diabetes. If you love meat, pick lower fat versions like lean cuts of beef, chicken, turkey, and fish. Swap out whole milk and full fat cheeses and yogurt for 2% or skim milk and low or nonfat cheese/yogurt.

Many diabetics also suffer from heart disease, which a diet high in plants can help prevent [2]. So, enjoy a baked potato, but avoid potato chips. Bananas are also a great healthy snack.

Everyone in my family has diabetes, so I will too

            Type 2 diabetes is caused by both your genetic makeup and your environment. It is difficult to figure out which factor plays a bigger role because most people who share genetics (i.e., families) live in similar environments. We know there is a link between unhealthy eating, inactivity, too much body fat, and type 2 diabetes. If everyone in your family is overweight, doesn’t eat healthy, is sedentary, and has diabetes, it is impossible to tell if that is due to genetics or lifestyle.

The Diabetes Prevention Program worked with people at risk for diabetes. By helping people practice portion control, healthy eating, weight loss, and getting lots of exercise, people reduced their risk of developing diabetes by 58% over the following 3 years [4]! The Diabetes Prevention Program found that if people can lose 7% of their bodyweight over 6 months, the risk of developing diabetes is much lower [4]. For example, if you are 250 pounds, you would aim to lose 18 pounds over 6 months, which is about a pound a week. The program also found exercising, such as walking, for 30 minutes at least 5 days a week can help lower your chances of developing diabetes [4].

The bottom line is that while you can’t change your genetics, you can make choices to eat healthier and be more active. Focus on what you can control and don’t worry about your family history.

If I have diabetes, all I need to do is check my blood sugar

            If you are a new type 2 diabetic, your doctor will want to take your blood pressure, have your eyes examined, perform a foot exam, have labs such as your cholesterol and triglycerides (for heart health), serum creatinine and estimated glomerular filtration rate (for your kidneys) drawn. They will then want to complete all these tasks each year [5]. Type 2 diabetes is a lot of work!

            Make sure that you are not only checking your blood sugar but also your feet each day. Look at all parts of your feet, especially in between the toes and the bottoms of your feet; use a mirror or ask someone to look for you, if you are not able to assess your feet properly yourself. Look for any changes in your feet such as redness, cracks, blisters, and open areas. If you check them every day, you know what they should look like and will catch any changes early. Always wear cotton socks and well-fitting shoes to protect your feet and try not to go barefoot or wear sandals. Use warm water (check with your hand first) and mild soap to clean your feet, then gently dry them using a towel. Use a moisturizing cream on your heels but avoid between the toes. By taking all these steps, you can lower your chances of developing a diabetic foot ulcer [6].

Once my doctor puts me on insulin, I will always have to take it

            In one study of 20 diabetic men taking insulin, after 16 days of eating a whole foods plant-based diet, most were able to decrease the amount of insulin they needed from an average of 26 units a day to 11 units. Nine patients no longer needed insulin at all [7]. Following a strict plant-based diet may help you need less insulin. And in some cases, you may be able to get off insulin completely.

            If making drastic changes seems too overwhelming, remember that even small changes in your diet and lifestyle can help reduce the need for medications. Many times, cutting back on portions of unhealthy foods while making healthier choices can help improve blood sugars. For example, try eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and plant-based proteins. Switch to leaner cuts of meat. Swap out full fat versions of dairy for lower fat choices. To increase your activity, try parking further away from places and taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Start taking a 5 minute walk a few times a week. Small changes can yield big results; just choose one to get started on your path to better health and see where it leads you.

References

[1] American Diabetes Association, “Classification and Diagnosis of Diabetes: Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes—2019,” Diabetes Care, vol. 42, no. Supplement 1, pp. S13-S28, 2019.
[2] Nutrition Facts, “What causes insulin resistance?,” [Online]. Available: https://nutritionfacts.org/video/what-causes-insulin-resistance/.
[3] M. Greger, “NutritionFacts,” NutritionFacts, 3 April 2019. [Online]. Available: https://nutritionfacts.org/video/the-best-diet-for-diabetes/.
[4] American Diabetes Association, “Prevention or Delay of Type 2 Diabetes: Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes—2019,” Diabetes Care, vol. 42, pp. S29-S33, 2019.
[5] American Diabetes Association, ” Comprehensive Medical Evaluation and Assessment of Comorbidities: Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes—2019,” American Diabtes Association, vol. 42, pp. S34-S45, 2019.
[6] D. J. Wexler, “Patient education: Foot care for people with diabetes (Beyond the Basics),” UpToDate, 17 October 2019. [Online]. Available: https://www-uptodate-com.chnlib.idm.oclc.org/contents/foot-care-for-people-with-diabetes-beyond-the-basics?search=diabetes%20neuropathy&topicRef=1746&source=see_link#H2469842933.
[7] J. W. Anderson and K. Ward, “High-carbohydrate, high-fiber diets for insulin-treated men with diabetes mellitus,” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 32, no. 11, pp. 2312-2321, 1979.

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