November 14th is World Diabetes Day, and at Saskatchewan Blue Cross, we wanted to debunk common myths about diabetes to help you live an empowered and healthy life. Whether you have diabetes or know someone who does, the common misconceptions about this complicated disease and how to manage it can be confusing. This blog looks at these myths and what you can do to manage and prevent diabetes.
Common misconceptions about Diabetes
1. You need to avoid all sugary foods.
This is simply not the case. While a large part of managing your diabetes involves maintaining a healthy and balanced diet, that does not exclude a sweet treat. The most important part of living with diabetes is balancing occasional indulgence with an overall diet rich in fruits, vegetables, protein, and fibre.
It is important to remember that all carbohydrates are broken down into sugar by the body, so monitoring your overall carbohydrate intake is a key part of managing your glucose levels. The Glycemic Index can be a helpful tool in making your dietary choices when trying to prevent or manage diabetes; foods such as leafy green vegetables, some fruits, raw carrots, oats, and legumes are low on the Glycemic Index and have a significantly lower effect on your glucose levels than white rice, bread, and potatoes. The Glycemic Index can be a helpful tool for balancing your diet and glucose levels; however, it is not a complete dietary plan.
Blue Cross Tip: Skipping sugar for a sugar substitute like stevia or aspartame doesn’t mean it’s healthier––always check the ingredients to make an informed choice.
While many products are marketed for diabetic and sugar-conscious diets, they are often more expensive than other options and do not provide any additional benefit to your health. A balanced diet is all about choosing foods that benefit your health while being delicious. If you’re looking for something sweet, try baking homemade treats or choose store-bought options with whole grains, lower sugar, and high dietary fibre.
2. A poor diet causes diabetes.
A poor diet is only a risk factor for type 2 diabetes alongside other environmental and genetic factors such as obesity, low exercise, a close relative with type 2 diabetes, and age. If you have been diagnosed with gestational or pre-diabetes, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes is also higher. In contrast, Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that affects the cells in your pancreas that produce insulin and is not caused by poor diet or other environmental factors.
Eating a healthy diet is a very important part of managing the outcomes of your diagnosis, and a plays a key role in managing the glucose levels in your body. Avoiding caring for your health when you have diabetes can lead to serious and life-threatening complications, including nerve damage, amputation of the toes and feet due to infection, loss or reduction of eyesight, kidney damage, and heart disease.
3. There is only one kind of diabetes.
There are three types of diabetes. Diabetes describes a range of diseases caused by the inhibited uptake of insulin or the destroyed functioning of the pancreas to produce insulin.
With this form of diabetes, your immune system attacks your islet cells in the pancreas, which produce the hormone insulin. Type 1 diabetes can affect any age group, but it most often presents in children and teenagers. In this case, family history and viral infections are the known risk factors for developing Type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disease and is not caused by diet or other environmental factors.
This is a life-long, chronic condition, but with advancements in medical technology, you can live a long and healthy life. Treatment for this autoimmune disease includes insulin therapy and glucose monitoring in combination with a healthy and active lifestyle.
This form of diabetes occurs when your body develops a resistance to the insulin produced by the pancreas. It is linked to several lifestyle, environmental, and genetic risk factors.
While sugars produced by carbohydrates are necessary for our bodies, type 2 diabetes can inhibit the regular functioning of this system, causing high blood sugar levels. Depending on the severity, this condition can be managed by diet and exercise alone; however, many people will need medication or insulin therapy to reduce the glucose levels in their bloodstream. You play a big role in determining how your diagnosis affects you; making healthy changes can significantly reduce symptoms and reduce your risk of developing further complications.
4. If I have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes, I will develop type 2 diabetes.
This is untrue. Being diagnosed with pre-diabetes does not necessarily mean it will progress. With this condition, your blood sugar levels are far higher than normal but not high enough to qualify as diabetic. It is a significant risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes and should be taken seriously. You can manage pre-diabetes with changes to your diet and lifestyle and potential medication from your doctor.
Risk factors for developing pre-diabetes include:
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
- Gestational diabetes
- Age (those 45 and older have an increased risk factor)
- Sleep apnea
- Lack of exercise
5. Only obese people get diabetes.
While obesity is a serious risk factor, it is not the cause. Any body type can be at risk for developing diabetes, and this dangerous assumption might prevent someone from seeing their doctor when they need to. You cannot look at someone and tell if they have diabetes; these assumptions are extremely harmful. The best way to know if you’re at risk for diabetes is to understand your relationship to the risk factors and speak with your doctor if you have concerns. If you are at risk, know the signs and symptoms of diabetes.
- Your thirst increases dramatically
- You urinate more often
- Feeling hungry after eating
- Blurry vision
- Numbness and tingling in the extremities
- Slow-healing wounds and infections
- Unexplained weight loss
6. Eating sugary foods will cause diabetes.
This common misconception reflects a misunderstanding about how sugar functions in the body. When you eat any carbohydrates (which include any sugar or starches), the body breaks them down into glucose––which is necessary for providing your body with energy. When your body doesn’t need the glucose you produce, it stores it for later in the muscles, fat, and liver. Insulin is the hormone responsible for regulating the glucose levels in your body. While insulin resistance isn’t fully understood, obesity, lifestyle, and genetics are risk factors for developing it.
Eating sugary foods does not give you diabetes. Still, it will contribute to obesity––which can significantly increase your risk of developing type 2 and gestational diabetes and put you at risk for pre-diabetes. You can reduce your risk of diabetes (except for type 1) by exercising more frequently and reducing your intake of highly processed carbohydrates.
Manage and prevent diabetes by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
A healthy lifestyle includes a well-balanced diet and exercising a minimum of three days per week. You can reduce your risk of diabetes by integrating more movement into your day, from walking, swimming, cycling, or a recreational sport. There is no special diet for those with diabetes, a balanced diet is the same one recommended for everyone!
If you’re struggling with obesity, talk to your doctor about a plan for reducing your risk. Making slow changes to your diet and exercise habits over time is the best way to avoid injury and integrate new healthy habits into your lifestyle. In addition to eating well and moving your body, you can also quit smoking and reduce your alcohol consumption––both greatly increase your risk of multiple life-threatening conditions, including diabetes.
Visit our website for trusted, expert knowledge on integrating new diet and exercise habits. We are here to support our community with accurate and easy-to-read information from local dieticians, physiotherapists, and more!