10 Myths about diabetes busted
With so many diabetes myths and misconceptions about, registered dietitian, Ria Catsicas, helps us separate fact from fiction …
‘People with diabetes have to follow a special diet or have to eat special diabetic food’ is just one of the common misconceptions surrounding diabetes.
In commemoration of World Diabetes Day (14 November) ADSA (Association for Dietetics in South Africa) spokesperson and registered dietitian, Ria Catsicas looks at some of these misconceptions that can result in people avoiding health testing or seeking treatment.
Ria has a special interest in the medical nutrition management of diabetes, metabolic syndrome and obesity, and is the author of the book The Complete Nutritional Solutions to Diabetes.
Myth #1: People with diabetes have to follow a special diet or have to eat special diabetic foods
“Actually, people with diabetes do not have to follow a ‘special’ diet. The whole family should eat healthy unprocessed foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and poultry, low-fat milk and dairy products, seeds, nuts, legumes and plant oils. Everyone should avoid or limit eating fatty red meats, processed foods such as processed meats, all foods made from white flour and foods with a high sugar content. Healthy eating is good for all of us, as it is essential for supporting our immune systems and protecting us against disease, as well as to ensure that we have optimal energy levels throughout the day.”
Myth #2: If I am diabetic, my food is going to be more expensive
“It is not necessary to buy expensive foods marketed to diabetics. Healthy eating can be economical and is often cheaper than buying unhealthy treats. Buying fresh fruit and vegetables that are in season is certainly cheaper than buying processed fruit juices and soft drinks. If you eat fruits and salads as snacks and as dessert, you can save the money you would have spent on biscuits, rusks, cakes, desserts, sweets and potato crisps. Legumes, such as lentils and beans, are cheaper than red meat and high-fat hard cheeses. A tasty bean curry is, for instance, a much cheaper meal than a red meat alternative.”
Myth #3: Eating too much sugar causes diabetes
“There is truth in this statement, but it is too simplistic. Research shows that there is a correlation between the high intake of sugar-based soft drinks, energy drinks and fruit juices and the development of obesity. And, obesity, in turn, can be a significant contributing factor in the development of T 2 diabetes. However, a person’s complete diet must be taken into account. A diet that is characterised by the high intake of sugar, such as soft drinks, chocolates and sweets; as well as a high intake of refined starches, such as white or brown bread, pap, fast foods, biscuits, rusks and potato fries; while also poor in healthy foods such as fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains, can contribute to the development of diabetes.”
Myth #4: People with diabetes cannot eat carbohydrates
“Not all carbohydrates are unhealthy. Both the type and a number of carbohydrate foods you eat at a meal will affect your blood glucose levels afterwards.
Therefore, for optimal blood glucose control, it is important to control the quantity and be aware of the type of carbohydrates you are going to eat. Small portions of whole grains, fruit, and vegetables that are evenly distributed throughout the day can contribute to optimal blood glucose control. Research has also shown that the consistency of your carbohydrate intake from day-to-day can help to optimise blood glucose control.”
Myth #5: People with diabetes shouldn't eat fruit
“Yes, too much fruit can contribute to an increase in blood glucose levels. However, portion size is important. It is recommended that you consult your dietitian to calculate the amount of fruit that you should include in your daily diet.”
Myth #6: People with diabetes should be on a high-fat diet
“There is no research to date which has proved that a high-fat diet can contribute to either weight loss or improved blood glucose control. To lose weight, your calorie intake from both foods and drinks must be less than your energy expenditure on both voluntary and involuntary activity. The restriction of any food group, whether it is carbohydrates or fats or proteins can contribute to weight loss. To achieve successful weight loss, people with diabetes need to adhere to an eating plan that restricts their usual calorie intake.
"Research has shown that diets promoting extreme macronutrient manipulation, whether it is carbohydrates or fats or proteins actually lessen people’s adherence to the eating plan. It is much wiser for people with diabetes to develop sustainable healthy eating habits that can easily be incorporated into a lifestyle for the long term. The best diet for a person with diabetes is a healthy eating plan that the person can adhere to. To facilitate adherence, a dietitian would take into consideration the individual’s cultural preferences, their budget constraints, their age and gender, the logistics of their daily life, such as their work circumstances or travel requirements, as well as their weight status, the medications they use and their activity levels.”
Myth #7: There are no proven health dangers of consuming too much saturated fat
“It is well-established that a high intake of saturated fats contributes to increased LDL cholesterol levels in some individuals. While it has not been proven that increased LDL cholesterol levels contribute directly to cardiac events, this is because there are NUMEROUS compounding factors that would cause a heart attack. Atherosclerosis is an inflammatory condition and a high intake of saturated fats in a nutrient poor diet can aggravate inflammation. It has been proven that a high saturated fat intake in a nutrient poor diet can also contribute to decreased sensitivity of the body cells to the action of insulin.”
Myth #8: If I am diabetic, I should stop my medication and go on a low-carb high-fat diet
“As a person with diabetes, you should never stop your medication without your doctor’s recommendation and agreement that this is the best medical course for you. It has been established that when diabetes is diagnosed, most individuals would have already lost 50% of the insulin-producing capacity of the beta cells in the pancreas. Therefore, the optimal way to manage diabetes is to follow a healthy diet, to lose weight if overweight, to engage in physical activity, such as walking three to five times a week for 40 to 60 minutes at a time, and, to take appropriate medication on your doctor’s advice.”
Myth #9: If one of my parents has diabetes, there is nothing I can do about it – I will develop diabetes eventually
“If you have a genetic predisposition to diabetes, you have all the reason you need to embrace a healthy lifestyle. While genetics may only contribute 30 to 40% to the development of any condition, including diabetes, environmental and lifestyle factors would have a 60 to 70% impact. If you maintain a healthy body weight, stick to a healthy eating plan, manage your stress and get regular physical exercises, you have a very good chance of not developing diabetes.”
Myth #10: If I have diabetes, I can’t exercise
“This is not true at all. Diabetes is a compelling reason to exercise regularly as physical activity plays a very important role in lowering blood glucose levels. Exercise also predisposes your body cells to be more sensitive to insulin, and of course, it helps to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. If you use the insulin it is important to check your blood glucose levels before and after physical activity. If you get results below 6 m mol/l it is recommended that you lower your insulin dose or eat a healthy snack to prevent a hypoglycemic attack during or after exercise.”