Almost 24 million people in the United States – that's 8% of the population – have diabetes. We all think we know what diabetes is and how you manage it, but do we really?
The real truth about diabetes: Debunking the myths
- Myth number one: All diabetes is the same.
Fact: There are three different types of diabetes: Type I, type II, and gestational.
Type I diabetes occurs when your immune system attacks and destroys cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. If you have type I diabetes, you need to take insulin injections on a daily basis for proper management. You CANNOT manage this type of diabetes solely through diet and exercise. The cause of type I diabetes is not clear, but many people believe there is a genetic connection, and/or it may be caused by environmental factors such as viruses.
Type II diabetes is the most common type of diabetes. 90% of people who have diabetes have this type. In previous years, older people were the population most likely to be diagnosed with this kind of diabetes. Today, type II diabetes is common because of diet and lifestyle factors – specifically obesity, inactivity, and improper diet. Type II diabetes management can often be done completely with diet and lifestyle changes, although you also may need to take medication or insulin if you are diagnosed with type II diabetes.
Gestational diabetes occurs only in pregnancy. If a woman is diagnosed with gestational diabetes, there is a 20 to 50% chance of developing type II diabetes within 5 to 10 years.
- Myth number two: Diabetes isn't that serious.
Fact: Diabetes is more deadly than AIDS and breast cancer combined. Two out of three people who have diabetes will die from stroke or heart disease that occurs as a result of diabetes. Proper diabetes management is essential to delay or even prevent diabetes-related death altogether.
- Myth number three: People who have diabetes need to eat special "diabetic" food.
Fact: "Diabetic" food has no special health benefits. Good management makes fresh, healthy food a priority – as is true for anyone. The ideal diabetic diet is low in fat, controls salt and sugar intake, and focuses on fresh, whole, healthy foods like whole grains, lean meats, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Myth number four: People with diabetes can't really have carbohydrates.
Fact: While refined carbohydrates can cause problems with blood sugar levels, modest portions of healthy carbohydrates like whole grains, baked potatoes, and other starchy fruits and vegetables can and should be included in a healthy diabetic diet for good diabetes management – as they should be for anyone.
- Myth number five: Diabetics can't eat sweets like chocolate, baked goods, or candies.
Fact: A healthy management program will allow for these foods in limited fashion. No food is off-limits for most people with diabetes as long as they are eaten sparingly and included in a healthy meal plan. Exercise, too, is important to good blood sugar control, and should be done to help control blood sugar and for good overall health along with other control methods like insulin or medications.
- Myth number six: Fruit has "natural" sugar, so diabetics can eat as much as they want to.
Fact: Fruit is healthy and contains plenty of nutrients, including fiber. However, because fruits contain carbohydrates, diabetics should practice portion control. The diabetes management team will certainly include fruit in diabetics' diets – but in reasonable and controlled amounts, just as with everything else.
There are a lot of myths about diabetes management that aren't true. Diabetics who know the facts can manage their diabetes effectively.