If you have diabetes, there’s no doubt you have encountered your share of conflicting information. From family members and friends to well-meaning healthcare professionals, it can seem like everyone has an opinion on what you should do to manage your blood sugar. All of these mixed messages can lead to confusion and it can be hard to weed out the facts from the myths, but doing so is essential.
The concern here is twofold: First, if you were to listen to every myth and misconception out there on diabetes, you might feel afraid to eat practically any food, leading to a needlessly restrictive diet that falls short on meeting your nutritional needs. In addition, you may be guilted into thinking your diagnosis was somehow your fault, a fallacy that can have a deeply negative impact on your emotional wellbeing.
To break through the noise and get to the facts, we reached out to the experts to debunk some of the most common diabetes myths.
Myth #1: Your Type 2 diabetes diagnosis is your fault
“Because lifestyle factors can play a role in type 2 diabetes, people tend to assume they got diabetes because they did something wrong,” explains Mary Ellen Phipps, RDN, author of The Easy Diabetes Cookbook. However, this is often far from the truth. “In some cases, a type 2 diabetes diagnosis can come from poor lifestyle choices; however, most of the time it is a combination of factors, some of which may be out of your control,” adds Phillips.
Family history, genetics, stress, and even underlying health conditions and certain medications can all increase the risk of developing diabetes. A diagnosis of the disease should never come with self-judgement.
Myth #2: People with diabetes can’t eat carbs
You’d be hard-pressed to find a person with diabetes who has not been asked at least once, “Are you really going to eat that?” The myth that individuals with diabetes need to avoid all foods containing carbohydrates is unfounded, and often leads to excessively restrictive diets that can be almost impossible to maintain.
“People often assume managing carb intake means eliminating them, but people with diabetes, just like people without diabetes, need carbs to survive,” explains Phillips. Instead of avoiding carbohydrates all together, Phillips advocates for going “smart carb” rather than “low carb”, by focusing on eating carbohydrates from choices that have less of an impact on blood glucose and may offer health benefits.
In fact, research has found eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains such as oats, beans, and lentils may help reduce the risk of diabetes while providing protective benefits to the heart.
Myth #3: Only children develop type 1 diabetes and only adults develop type 2 diabetes
Understanding the type of diabetes you have is critical to receiving the best treatment, yet this common myth can often lead to an incorrect diagnosis. “Adults can develop type 1 diabetes, yet many adults are misdiagnosed with type 2 diabetes simply based on their age, delaying proper treatment for type 1 diabetes,” explains Susan Weiner, RDN, CDCES, and author of Diabetes: 365 Tips for Living Well.
She points out that healthcare professionals need to be careful when diagnosing diabetes and should not prejudge an individual based on body weight and age. Just as older individuals can develop type 1 diabetes, children and young adults can also develop type 2 diabetes. Working with a healthcare professional specialized in diabetes can help to ensure a correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment options.
When it comes to managing diabetes, breaking through the myths and getting to the facts is key. Always do your homework and check the source to determine if the information is credible. When in doubt, discuss any information or advice with your diabetes management team to determine the best steps to take for your individual treatment plan.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.