Facts and myths about nutrition for diabetes Print

November is Diabetes Month
nutrition expert Andrea Holwegner on AM770

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Chances are you know someone with diabetes. The Canadian Diabetes Association estimates there are currently 11 million Canadians living with diabetes or prediabetes.  This number is also expected to rise over the next decade.  

Diabetes is a disease in which the body either can’t make the hormone insulin or alternatively can’t properly use insulin. Since insulin is a hormone that controls the amount of sugar (glucose) in the blood, diabetes leads to high blood sugars which can cause serious damage to organs, blood vessels and nerves in your body.  

It is no surprise that nutrition is one of the most important factors in helping to manage healthy blood sugar levels.  Preventing high blood sugars can help prevent diabetes-related complications such as kidney disease, foot problems, eye disease, heart attack, stroke, nerve damage and erectile dysfunction in men.

bowl of sugar

Here are some of the most common myths and nutrition facts about diabetes to help boost your understanding of how food influences blood sugar management:  

#1.
Myth: Diabetes is caused by eating too much sugar and is preventable
Fact: There are several types of diabetes and it isn’t always preventable  

Type 1 diabetes is not caused by eating too much sugar or any other nutrition factor.  Type 1 diabetes is not preventable. The cause of Type 1 diabetes is unknown but scientists think it happens when the body’s immune system destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. If you have type 1 diabetes you must take insulin by a pen, syringe or pump since your body cannot make insulin.  Understanding healthy meal planning is also important to help manage blood sugars.  

About 90% of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes.   This occurs when your body can’t properly use insulin (known as insulin sensitivity) or doesn’t make enough insulin, which results in sugar building up in your blood.  Type 2 diabetes is managed through healthy eating, exercise and sometimes medications and/or insulin to help control blood sugars. Eating too much sugar does not cause type 2 diabetes (just like no one single food or nutrient can be blamed for obesity).  Some of the risk factors for type 2 diabetes are things we can’t change such as being over the age of 40, certain ethnic backgrounds, personal genetics and family history.  The risk of type 2 diabetes does however increase strongly if you are overweight, especially around the mid-section.  

#2
Myth: A special diet must be followed
Fact: You can eat regular foods like everyone elseGluten Free Blueberry muffin

You don’t have to eat a separate meal from other members of the family just because you have diabetes. You can buy regular food at the grocery store and cook regular recipes.  While you can certainly lower the sugar levels of recipes, cook from diabetes cookbooks or buy sugar-free foods, this isn’t mandatory.

There is nothing you need to avoid; all foods can fit even if you have diabetes. The key in diabetes management is spreading out food throughout the day so your body can handle a reasonable amount of carbohydrate at one time.  Carbohydrates are found in foods such as grains, pasta, rice, bread, legumes, potatoes, corn, fruit, milk, yogurt and sweets.  

If you have just been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes limit obvious sugary foods such as pop, fruit juice, candy and sweets to get your blood sugars under control.  Once blood sugars are better-managed, work with a Registered Dietitian that is also a Certified Diabetes Educator can help you understand how to incorporate special foods such as desserts into your diet.

Eating carbohydrate-rich foods with a source of protein has an important role in blood sugar management. Protein-rich foods, such as meat, seafood, poultry, cheese, eggs, peanut butter and nuts, help to slow down the release of carbohydrate-rich foods into the blood stream, thereby preventing fast surges in blood sugar. Protein is also helpful in weight control since protein-rich foods are slow to digest and contribute to the feeling of fullness.

While the type of food you eat is important for health, when it comes to healthy blood sugar management portion sizes are equally important to the type of food eaten.  For example, if you had the choice between baking your favourite regular sugar muffin recipe or trying a lower sugar muffin recipe, the most important consideration is having only one at a time regardless of the choice.

#3
Myth: I only need to pay attention to the sugar on the labelUnderstand Food Labels
Fact: There are several important things to look at on a food label

The number one most important thing for someone with diabetes to examine on a label is the total grams of carbohydrates.  This is because most carbohydrates (except fibre) are sugar to your body and directly influence blood sugars.  

The type of sugar in grains, pasta, rice, bread, legumes and starchy veggies are complex carbohydrates (contain longer chains of sugar similar a pearl necklace with each pearl representing a sugar).  Foods such as fruit, milk, yogurt, some vegetables, beer, table sugar and sweets have simple carbohydrates (single or double units of sugar).

There are other important numbers to look at on a label if you have diabetes.  If you are overweight then watching your calories is important.  Since individuals with diabetes are also at risk for heart disease reducing trans fats, saturated fats and sodium is key.  Choosing higher fibre foods as well as meals and snacks that contain protein is also helpful to help improve blood sugar control.

#4
Myth: I must have 3 meals and 3 snacks each day
Fact: Eat every three to five hours

While grazing has been suggested to be helpful for managing blood sugars, be aware that not everyone needs to eat every two hours.  Snacking constantly may contribute to excess calories and weight gain, which doesn’t help diabetes management.
bowl of fresh fruit

Eat every three to five hours and disperse carbohydrate-rich foods throughout the day in addition to taking diabetes medication as prescribed by your physician.

#5
Myth: I must consume alternative sweeteners
Fact: Alternative sweeteners are a choice but certainly not required

Some individuals will choose to consume foods such as diet beverages, sugar-free sweets and diet yogurt.  While this is not necessary, should you choose to consume these you can refer to the ADI (acceptable dietary intake) set up by Health Canada and information from the Canadian Diabetes Association for alternative sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose.

If you don’t enjoy the taste of alternative sweeteners or simply prefer to skip these foods and enjoy small portions of regular sugar this is not a problem.  Small amounts of regular sugar and dessert can be included but you do need to be savvy about how much and also what else you are eating with them.  Work with a Registered Dietitian that is also a Certified Diabetes Educator for help.  If you are going to have a sweet dessert look for recipes that use less sugar and icings in general.  Also eat your dessert separate from a meal so you can spread out how much carbohydrate you are having at one time. Lastly, head out for a walk or any type of physical activity since this is one of the single most effective ways to lower your blood sugars.

 

If you need assistance working with the demands of managing blood sugar levels, carbs, and life, contact us to speak to a Registered Dietitian.

About Andrea Holwegner

CEO, Registered Dietitian, Counseling Practice Director & Professional Speaker

Andrea the «Chocoholic Nutritionist» is founder and CEO of Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc. since 2000. She is an online nutrition course creator, professional speaker and regular guest in the media. Andrea is the recipient of an award by the Dietitians of Canada: The Speaking of Food & Healthy Living Award for Excellence in Consumer Education....Read more

Success stories

"I am a psychologist in private practice and it is very important to me that my clients have the best care with other health care professionals. For that reason Health Stand Nutrition is my only source for exceptional Dietitians. Andrea and her team provide highly knowledgeable, compassionate, and real world support to my clients who require assistance with food lifestyle. I trust my clients to them and you would be in excellent hands making them part of your health care team."
Adele Fox, Psychologist
“This is the first time I feel satisfied; my cravings have diminished dramatically and I have a whole new relationship with food. I am eating guilt-free for the first time in my life. My energy has also dramatically increased and I feel great!
Rhonda Jenkins, Nutrition Counseling Client
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Marty Avery, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I have come to think of the program as a one stop shopping excursion for everything one needs to know about creating a joyous relationship with food and our bodies. In a single word, the course has gifted me with freedom from the punishing rigidity of disordered eating, old stories that never were true, and body dysmorphia that did nothing but make me lose sight of a body that has done everything I've asked, despite my careless dismissal of her needs. Now when I look in the mirror I find myself shifting from harsh criticism to gentle gratitude.”
Lynn Haley, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
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Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
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Amy Floyd, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Thanks Andrea for an amazing presentation, I have heard all positive remarks from attendees and the evaluations show the same sentiment. It is really gratifying when a speaker does their “homework” and weaves in our profession’s day to day challenges within their content, you did an awesome job of this! You truly took the “die” out of Dietician! Your information on healthy eating and simplifying how we can work towards this as we are all so busy really hit the mark. Andrea connects very well with her audience; she is energetic, funny, and very approachable.”
Carole Ann LaGrange, Transfusion Medicine Safety Officer

Event Planner for Laboratory Diagnostic Imaging Annual Event

I am a family physician who sees patients with a myriad of eating concerns – from wanting to know how to plan healthy meals for active families, to weight loss, to eating disorders, and so on. I cannot recommend the Health Stand team highly enough. I have worked with (and been to!) other Dieticians in the past and too often find that they just ask for food logs and make suggestions that are easily obtained online or in books. The Dieticians at Health Stand offer much more than just telling clients what they “should be eating.” In contrast, the team really does more of a counselling practice, and they work hard to help their clients learn more about why their eating habits may be off track and not optimal for them, as well as helping people to effect change at a deep level that, most importantly, is sustainable for lifetime health.”
Dr. Deb Putnam, Family Physician

Nutrition Counseling Client & Referring Physician

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Gillian Gray, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“As a construction company, we select speakers who can relate to our industry and its employees. Andrea’s message was delivered with humor and empathy. She makes people feel as though they can make changes without leaving behind every favorite food. Andrea focused her presentation on healthy eating as a way to keep energy high throughout the day. This message and the way it was delivered resonated with our predominantly male, blue collar culture. I would highly recommend Andrea as a speaker for groups such as ours. She will get your message across without alienating anyone in your audience – which is a huge hurdle when trying to introduce a wellness program in the workplace!”
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Fisher Construction Group, Burlington, WA

I found my Dietitian warm, funny, and skilled at teaching nutrition concepts without the overwhelm. The general approach of each session was to mix science with emotion, which was exceedingly effective in helping me shift my perspective on food from one of anxiety to one of joy and curiosity.”
Erin Kronstedt, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Excellent presentation! What a refreshing change to have a speaker inspire rather than “lecture” about nutrition. Your captivating stories, tips and overall approach to healthy eating uplifts and puts people at ease. It was great to hear we don’t need to strive to be perfect eaters, and that small changes really can make a difference in how we feel and in our health. Thanks to Andrea, we have solutions to our everyday nutrition challenges that can actually work in real life!”
Tina Tamagi, Human Resources

ARC Resources Ltd.

“Had I not joined this course I would have struggled with no focus, low energy, and mindless eating. Andrea is an excellent teacher and motivator. This is not just a course, it is a nutrition club with mentorship, support, and connections with other people with similar situations.”
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