Diabetes Myths Debunked

Chances are that unless you or someone close to you have diabetes, you don’t spend much time thinking about it. With close to 10 percent of the population currently living with diabetes, however, it’s time for all Americans to start paying more attention to the disease that directly affects more than 30 million people and their families.

A big part of the problem surrounding diabetes is that it is a condition that is highly misunderstood. To help combat misconceptions about the disease, we teamed up with Kidist Alemayehu, registered nurse, diabetes educator and program coordinator at Texas Health Dallas. She outlines seven of the most common diabetes myths and provides the truth surrounding each issue.

Myth #1:  Eating too much sugar causes diabetes.

“Type 1 diabetes is caused by genetic factors and an autoimmune response, while type 2 diabetes is caused by genetic and lifestyle factors,” Alemayehu says.

While too much sugar does not directly cause diabetes, an unhealthy diet contributes to weight gain and being overweight is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

Myth #2: Diabetes is not serious.

Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death among Americans according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is also the seventh leading cause of death among Texans, according to Texas Health and Human Services.

Diabetes may not be the main reason for death, but it does have its fair share of complications and can be a contributing factor to other serious health issues that can be fatal.

“If diabetes is not managed properly, it reduces life expectancy and leads to other health complications including eye damage, kidney damage, heart disease, nerve damage, amputations and sexual dysfunctions,” Alemayehu says.

Myth #3: You have to be overweight to develop diabetes.

Alemayehu says type 2 diabetes is not directly caused by weight, although an unhealthy weight is a risk factor.

“Some people with healthy weight can develop diabetes,” she explains. “At the same time, some people who are overweight may not develop diabetes. Type 1 is not associated with lifestyle factors.”

Myth #4: Taking insulin means you have failed to take care of your diabetes.

“Some patients, regardless of the management of their diabetes, may need insulin to control their blood sugars,” she says. “Type 1 patients need insulin to survive, since their pancreas does not produce insulin. Insulin is a vital hormone and we can’t live without it.

“Type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease and over time, the pancreas gradually produces less insulin. These patients may also require insulin to control their blood glucose.”

Myth #5: People with diabetes should only eat diabetic food and should avoid carbohydrates and starches.

In the past, meal plans for diabetics were very restrictive, so this may be less of a “myth” and more a misconception. While you may need to make some changes in what and how much you eat, you do have some flexibility in deciding what you can eat, and nothing is necessarily “off limits.”

“There is no such thing as a ‘diabetic diet,’” Alemayehu explains. “Healthy meal plans, meaning those that are low in saturated fat and with moderate amounts of salt and sugar, are recommended for people with diabetes. Starchy foods such as pasta, rice, corn or potatoes can be part of a healthy meal plan, but the key is portion control.”

Myth #6: People with diabetes should not eat sweets.

This ties into our very first myth; since sugar does not cause diabetes, sweets are not entirely off the menu for diabetics, but it is important to remember to eat a variety of foods, not just sweets on their own.

“Sweets can be eaten as part of a healthy meal plan, combined with exercise,” Alemayehu says. “The name of the game is moderation.”

Myth #7: Fruit is healthy and you can eat as much as you want.

“Fruit contains vitamins and fiber and is a healthy food,” Alemayehu says. “However, fruit also contains carbohydrates and raises blood sugar. Therefore, it needs to be part of a balanced, healthy meal plan.”

If you have type 2 diabetes, it is a big deal and can be a life-changing diagnosis, but it is also something you can deal with and that can be successfully managed. Not managing your diabetes can cause a lot of devastating complications and can even be fatal, but staying informed and finding a place of support can help calm any nerves and guide you to the right path.

Are you at risk for developing diabetes? Take our Diabetes Risk Assessment online. Texas Health also offers individual and group education at its 10 outpatient diabetes education centers across the DFW area. For information on how to find a center nearest you, visit: https://www.texashealth.org/services/diabetes-care/.

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