Diabetes myths busted
Associate Professor Tim Crowe tackles some of the common myths associated with diabetes.
Say the word 'diabetes' and 'sugar' is a common thought in people's minds. Surprisingly, sugar has very little to do with causing diabetes, and sugar is by no means a ‘forbidden’ food for someone managing diabetes.
Myth: Eating too much sugar causes diabetes
Fact: If eating too much sugar caused diabetes, then the majority of Australians would have been diagnosed with it by now. It is the lifestyle factors of a poor diet, not getting enough exercise, and carrying too much weight (especially around the middle) that explain much of the risk of developing the most common form of diabetes in Australia – type 2 diabetes.
Eating (or drinking) too much sugar though can mean excess kilojoules, and that can result in weight gain, so sugar is something that everyone should aim to consume less of.
Myth: People with diabetes need to eat special diabetic foods
Fact: Foods labelled as ‘diabetic’ are not needed by anyone with diabetes. Many of these foods still raise blood glucose levels (as they may just replace one type of sugar with another in the food), are usually more expensive and can also have a laxative effect if they contain sugar alcohols.
A ‘diabetic diet’ is just a healthy way of eating that would be recommended for anyone. Eating plenty of vegetables and fruits, minimally processed grains and cereals, and lean protein foods such as meat and fish, is the cornerstone of a 'diabetic' diet.
"Eating plenty of vegetables and fruits, minimally processed grains and cereals, and lean protein foods such as meat and fish is the cornerstone of a diabetic diet."
Myth: People with diabetes can't eat sweets or chocolate
Fact: While the poor nutritional value of foods high in sugar is without question, the effect of a small amount of sugar on blood glucose levels is no different to any other type of carbohydrates, so sugar is not a forbidden food for someone with diabetes.
If eaten as part of a healthy diet together with exercise, then sweets, chocolate and desserts can be eaten by people with diabetes. There are no ‘off limits’ foods for people with diabetes, only foods to eat plenty of and foods to eat less of.
Myth: Needing to take insulin means you have ‘failed’
Fact: For someone with type 2 diabetes, a combination of healthy eating and exercise can be enough to manage the disease to start with. Many people though need to start taking oral diabetes medication when they are first diagnosed, and eventually, many will go on to require insulin down the track. Diabetes is not a static disease and changes over time.
Myth: Type 1 diabetes is a more serious disease than the type 2 form
Fact: No matter what the cause, a person with any form of diabetes has blood glucose levels that are too high. Left uncontrolled, both types of diabetes can lead to serious complications, including heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney disease, nerve damage and amputation.
Myth: Only older people get diabetes
Fact: Some decades ago, this myth would have been true with young people diagnosed with insulin-dependent type 1 diabetes being the only exception. Nowadays, young children are being diagnosed with the ‘adult’ form of type 2 diabetes. Sadly, problems of overeating, obesity and physical inactivity are endemic in children, and with that comes the much higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Parents should encourage good eating and lifestyle habits for the entire family which means less video game and TV time, more physical activity, less junk food, ditching soft drink and fruit juice, and having smaller portions of food.