Diabetes Diet: Beyond the Myths

Diabetes Diet: Beyond the Myths

Diabetes is a complicated disease, and managing it requires attention to detail, especially when it comes to carbohydrates and total calories.  Even though clinical and epidemiological studies have occasionally caused refinement in our understanding of best treatments for diabetes, several long-established myths persist. So what are some of the major myths and what should we believe instead.

Myth #1: Diabetes is caused by eating too much sugar.

This is false. There are three types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes begins most often in childhood or early adulthood, frequently when an autoimmune crisis damages the pancreatic β-islet cells that secrete insulin. Without insulin, blood glucose rises, protein glycosylation occurs, and peripheral organs and tissues are damaged. Type 1 diabetics must take insulin.
  • Type 2 diabetes, which is much more common, can begin at any age, and can begin either when the pancreas makes insufficient insulin or when cells become insensitive to insulin, or occasionally both. Insulin resistance is closely linked with chronic systemic inflammation and obesity, especially excess visceral fat.
  • Gestational diabetes arises from the hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy and may disappear after the birth. Often, women affected by this type of diabetes need to take insulin.

Myth #2: People with diabetes should avoid carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates can be an excellent source of fiber and several vitamins and minerals. The diabetic will not have to restrict the range of carbohydrates drastically but will have to be mindful of total carbohydrates consumed, and their effect on blood glucose.

A few factors must be taken into account when choosing carbohydrates:

  • Diabetics should select a higher proportion of their carbohydrates from those with a lower glycemic index, making sure they eat plenty of fiber, which slows the absorption of glucose. They should avoid excessive refined carbs and learn better ways to prepare high carbohydrate meals to slow digestion.
  • Diabetics should be mindful of the glycemic load of each meal, and balance healthy fats and proteins with their carbs to slow digestion and blunt insulin response. In addition to establishing the most healthful macronutrient ratios, diabetics should not overeat or become obese; both worsen diabetics’ health and complicate treatment of their disease.

Myth #3: Diabetics cannot enjoy favorite foods or desserts.

This is simply not true. The diabetic can eat anything others eat, but must reduce portions of high glycemic index foods, perhaps also indulge in them less frequently. There is no need for diabetics to restrict themselves to “diet foods,” and there is no such thing as a specialized diabetic diet. Instead, the gold standard of all meal planning is maintaining blood glucose within the healthy range established in consultation with your medical provider.

Perhaps the most damaging myth of all is that eating properly as a diabetic requires following a lot of rules, that it is impossibly difficult. The reality is that if you are diabetic, you will make some concessions and will find what combination of dietary modification, exercise, and medication helps you achieve optimum control of blood glucose, your personal gold standard. The lifestyle you eventually arrive at is one that could be adopted by non-diabetics similarly intent on maximizing their own health. There’s a lesson in this for all of us.