Five Common Myths About Nutrition and Diabetes Print

Know the facts

Article originally appeared in

Family Health Magazine

Chances are you know someone with diabetes. According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, an estimated 11 million Canadians are living with diabetes or prediabetes. This number is expected to rise over the next decade.  

With diabetes, the body either cannot make the hormone insulin or cannot use insulin properly. As insulin controls the amount of sugar (glucose) in the blood, diabetes leads to high blood glucose. This can seriouslDiabetes blood sugar checky damage the organs, blood vessels and nerves in the body.  

It is no surprise that good nutrition is a key way to manage healthy blood glucose levels. A healthy diet can help to prevent complications that can occur due to high blood glucose levels. These complications include kidney disease, foot problems, eye disease, heart attack, stroke, nerve damage, and problems with erections in men.

While there is good information about diabetes and nutrition available, there are also many myths that, if followed, could interfere with your health. Learning the truth behind some common myths will boost your understanding of how food influences blood glucose management.  

Myth #1:  You get diabetes from eating too much sugar, so diabetes can be avoided.

Fact:  There are different types of diabetes, and diet is only part of the equation.  

While many people associate diabetes with food choices, it is important to know that food choices and lifestyle are only a part of the equation.

About five to 10 per cent of people who have diabetes have Type 1 diabetes, which does not come from eating too much sugar, or any other food. With type 1 diabetes, the body cannot make insulin. People who have type 1 diabetes must inject insulin via an insulin pen, syringe or pump. They must pay close attention to match the food they eat with the correct amount of insulin. This version of the disease is not preventable, and the cause is unknown. Scientists think it happens when the body’s immune system destroys cells in the pancreas that make insulin.  

About 90 per cent of people with diabetes have the form referred to as type 2. Just as no single food or nutrient can be blamed for obesity, eating too much sugar does not cause type 2 diabetes. In this type, the body does not make enough insulin, or cannot properly use insulin and is therefore considered insulin resistant. Glucose builds up in the blood as a result. While sugar does not cause type 2 diabetes, the condition is managed through healthy eating and exercise, which can improve the efficiency of the insulin. Sometimes, medications or insulin are also used to help manage blood glucose. Some risk factors for type 2 diabetes cannot be changed. No one can control ethnic or genetic background, family history, or being over age 40. However, the risk does rise sharply if a person carries extra weight, especially around the mid-section.  

Myth #2:  You must follow a special diet if you have diabetes.pasta with vegetables

Fact:  Like everyone else, you can eat regular foods.

There really is no such thing as a diet for diabetes. If you have diabetes, you are encouraged to eat a healthy and balanced diet, which can be the same as that of other members of the family. You can buy regular food at the grocery store and cook regular recipes. You can certainly reduce the amount of sugar in recipes, cook from diabetes cookbooks, or buy sugar-free foods. However, this is not essential.

There is nothing you need to avoid. All foods can fit in your diet, even if you have diabetes. One of the keys in blood glucose management is spreading food out through the day so your body can handle a reasonable amount of carbohydrate at one time and best regulate blood glucose. Carbohydrates are the main nutrient that affects blood glucose. They are found in foods such as pasta, rice, bread, potatoes, corn, pulses (lentils, chick peas and dried beans), fruit, milk, and sweets.

If you have just been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, limit obvious sugary foods like pop, fruit juice, candy and sweets while you get your blood glucose under control. Once your blood glucose levels are better managed, work with a registered dietitian who is also a certified diabetes educator. This health care provider can help you understand how to include foods like desserts in your diet.

Eating foods rich in carbohydrate along with a source of protein helps manage blood glucose. Protein-rich foods include meat, seafood, poultry, cheese, eggs, peanut butter and nuts. They help slow the absorption of carbohydrate-rich foods. This stops glucose from surging rapidly into the blood. Protein may also help you with weight control, since protein-rich foods digest slowly and contribute to feeling full.

The type of food you eat affects your health. And when it comes to managing blood glucose, portion sizes are just as important as the type of food you eat. For instance, should you bake your favourite regular sugar muffin recipe or try a low-sugar version? Whichever type you make, what is most important is that you have only one muffin at a time.

 

Myth #3:  I only need to pay attention to the sugar on the food label.

Fact:  A lot of important information is on the food label, so be sure you understand how to read it.

When reading a food label, first check the portion size so you know how much food the food label is referring to. Next, look at the total grams of carbohydrates. Most carbohydrates (starch and sugar) act as sugar to your body, directly influencing your blood glucose. Fibre is the only exception, and can help lower spikes in blood glucose levels that can occur after eating carbohydrates.

The type of sugar in grains, pasta, rice, bread, legumes and starchy veggies are complex carbohydrates. This means they contain longer chains of sugar, similar to a pearl necklace. Each pearl represents a sugar. Foods like fruit, milk, yogurt, some vegetables, beer, table sugar and sweets have simple carbohydrates (only one or two units of sugar).

It is wise to consider the other facts on the nutrition label. If you are overweight, then watching your calories is important. Diabetes raises the risk of heart disease, so it is key to minimize trans fats and go easy on saturated fat and sodium. Watch for these on food labels too. Choose higher fibre foods, as well as meals and snacks that contain protein, to improve your blood glucose control.

Myth #4:  I must have three meals and three snacks each day.

Fact:  Eat every three to five hours.white and brown sugar

While eating throughout the day, or ‘grazing’ has been suggested for managing blood glucose, be aware that not everyone needs to eat every two hours. Constant snacking may result in taking in excess energy (calories) and can promote weight gain, which can make managing diabetes more difficult.

Instead, eat every three to five hours. Spread out carbohydrate-rich foods through the day, and take your diabetes medication as prescribed by your doctor.

 

Myth #5:  I must use alternative sweeteners.

Fact:  Alternative sweeteners are a choice, but certainly are not required.

Foods sweetened with alternative sweeteners have less or no impact on blood glucose levels. Some people choose to consume diet beverages, sugar-free sweets and diet yogurt as a way to cut back on added sugars. This is not necessary. However, if you want artificial sweeteners, Health Canada and the Canadian Diabetes Association have information about alternatives like aspartame and sucralose. 

It is not a problem if you do not enjoy the taste of alternative sweeteners, or simply prefer to enjoy small portions of regular sugar. You can include small amounts of regular sugar and dessert. Pay attention to how much and what else you are eating with these treats. If you want a sweet dessert, look for recipes that use less sugar and icing in general. Consider having your dessert as a snack rather than as part of a meal. This allows you to spread the carbohydrate intake out over more time.   

Knowing the difference between nutrition fact and fiction can help you to better manage your diabetes. Working with a registered dietitian who is also a certified diabetes educator can help.  

In addition to monitoring what you eat, remember to head out for a walk, or any type of physical activity. Exercise is one of the single most effective ways to lower your blood glucose.

Family Health Magazine Diabetes MythsDiabetes Myths Article Part 2

 

WRITTEN BY:  Andrea Holwegner, BSc, RD, a consulting dietitian in Calgary, AB.  She provides nutrition counselling, workplace wellness initiatives and speaking engagements through her professional practice, contact her here. 

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
“The Dieticians at Health Stand Nutrition help you to take action on the science behind eating well by making it practical, understandable, and fun. Their office is cozy and not at all clinical or intimidating. I felt like I was sitting down with a really smart, caring friend who wanted to help me make the best choices for my lifestyle and food preferences. Andrea and her team really are the best in the business.”
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
“I spent 3 hours when first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I learned more from my Dietitian about food in those 3 hours than I had learned in all the years of my life. I also love the newsletter, there is always something to learn.”
Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I didn’t realize how strong my “diet mentality” was, and all the rules I had in my head about food. I was in a cycle of reward/punish/binge/cringe. I booked with your business very reluctantly, on the repeated advice of my doctor, to get my slowly rising cholesterol levels in check. I thought I knew everything about food, and my behaviour with food, but I was definitely re-schooled. My weight is creeping down, I feel good about my diet, exercise, body image, and lifestyle.”
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

“I am a busy mom, with kids in high level sports, working full-time downtown, and running our home acreage outside the City. I now have the knowledge and tools I need to plan for and manage the chaos of meal planning.”
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!”
Stephanie Wood, HR and Safety Manager

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.”
Lorri Lawrence, Pursuit of Healthiness online course participant

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This