Diabetes and Your Diet: Busting 7 Myths

Some of the things you’ve heard probably aren’t true

Diabetes and diet myths

If you have diabetes, you’re probably watching what you eat to keep your blood sugar (glucose) levels stable. It’s the key to maintaining good health and avoiding potentially serious complications.

But many of us have misconceptions about diabetes and diet, says Andrea Dunn, RD, LD, CDE, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in Cleveland Clinic’s Digestive Disease Institute. Below, she sheds light on some common myths you may have come across:

Myth 1: You need to follow a ‘diabetic diet’

Fact: There is no diabetic diet; a heart-healthy eating style that helps maintain a healthy weight is recommended. That includes a mostly plant-based diet (think vegetables, fruits and whole grains), lean meats, vegetable oils instead of butter or margarine, and low-fat dairy products.

Myth 2: You have to stop eating bread

Fact: You can still eat bread and other carbohydrates if you have diabetes — but stick to healthy portions and choose whole grains often. Learn which foods contain carbohydrates and how many carbs they contain, then spread your carbohydrates throughout the day to keep blood glucose stable. If you need help in meal planning, a registered dietitian can give you an individual assessment and help you determine the right amount of carbohydrates for your needs.

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Myth 3: Avoiding sugar will help you control diabetes

Fact: Sugar is just one part of the “total carbohydrates” you’ll need to watch to keep your glucose levels stable. To determine the number of carbs you’re consuming at each meal, check the food label. Look at the serving size and compare it to the amount on your plate. Check the total carbohydrate grams per serving, and do the math.

Say the serving size on the label reads 1 cup, and the total carbohydrates per serving reads 45 grams. You have 2 cups on your plate, or 90 grams of carbohydrates. How does that fit into your carbohydrate budget for the meal, considering all the other carb-containing foods you plan to eat? Most doctors recommend 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per meal, depending on your calorie needs.

Myth 4: You can eat all the meat and fat you want because they have zero carbs

Fact: Eating less fat, especially saturated fat, from meat and other foods is important for heart health. This is especially true if you have type 2 diabetes because your risk of heart disease is two to four times higher than normal. Stay heart-healthy by eating a variety of mainly plant-based foods.

Myth 5: Juice is better for you than soda

Fact: Half a cup of juice contains the same amount of carbohydrate as half a cup of soda pop. Juice might contain more nutrients, but it can raise blood glucose levels just as much as soft drinks can. Switch to water and other zero-calorie drinks for your main beverages. If you drink juice at all, limit the quantity and include its carbs in your carbohydrate budget for the meal or snack.

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Myth 6: If you’re overweight, you’re doomed to get diabetes

Fact: You can help delay or even prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes by losing just 5 to 7 percent of your weight and by getting a minimum of two and a half hours of exercise per week. Those are findings from the Diabetes Prevention Program, a major study conducted at multiple U.S. medical centers. Small changes can add up to a big difference in your health!

Myth 7: If you take diabetes medications, you don’t have to watch what you eat

Fact: You need to take charge of what you eat and how active you are to stay on top of diabetes. Lifestyle, including what we eat and how much we exercise, is the cornerstone of good health whether we have diabetes or not. But always follow your doctor’s advice about medications and monitoring your blood glucose.

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  • GreenMonkey

    So let me get this straight…. if I have T2 diabetes it was most probably brought on by over indulgence of carbohydrates (all carbs, not just sugar) and following the standard American diet. Diabetes health care specialists are telling me that I should continue to eat the very poison that brought on the disease? It would benefit us all to lower our carb intake (notice I did not say zero carb) and increase our healthy fats. This significantly impacts diabetes for the better in many T2 diabetics who change their life style to include these diet changes. Depend on diet to control diebetes instead of drugs.

    • nancy

      I am very overweight and don’t have diabetes. I agree that we should all eat a better diet, but there are other factors besides diet that influence the development of diabetes.

    • mεD♚school or bust

      Everything in moderation. I believe the article is trying to compromise with the fact that most people will rather forgo dieting at all if it’s too harsh. So fundamentally you may be right, it may be better to cut out most [empty] carbohydrates from your diet. But again recall there isn’t a high likelihood for patient compliance if the diet is seen as too spartan.

      Also keep in mind that the goal of this article most likely wasn’t to write a treatise on carbohydrates and diabetes. carbohydrates are bad. Even the lowest quality carbohydrate isn’t ‘poison’, it’s rather the amount people choose to consume that is the problem. I believe the article did a fine job at expressing that part.

      • Alleen

        Excellent response which was helpful.

  • marian burroughs

    In three mths I came off of my meds which were two needles and two pills a day my sugar was 969 and when I left the hospital it was 474 nothing is impossible I excerise eat right and lost weight it’s been 12 yrs now and my sugar has never been over 110

  • Carolyn Brown

    You might read Dr Hyman, Dr Mercola & Dr Perlmutter to get an uodated look at this topic. You lost me when you recommended vegetable oils and non-fat dairy and that was under #1.

    • LMyers

      My thoughts exactly!! Just about every article they publish is garbage. No wonder everyone is sick if they listen to this advice! I only click on these articles to see what kind of rubbish they are publishing!!

  • Sheila Adkins

    My son is 33 years old, 5’10” and 144 lbs. He is extremely skinny so his weight had nothing to do with him developing Type 1 diabetes 4 months ago. He has always been hyperactive and was diagnosed ADHD as a child. This article is mainly what we have been taught about his diet because if you try to take everything away from someone they are going to cheat. It is best to have a plan that includes a little of each food group so it is easier to stick to it.

    • Dr. Maen K Househ

      Type 1 has nothing to do with weight

      • Sue

        Excuse me Dr. NOTHING is a very bold statement …insulin is a fat producing hormone!

        • MommynatorRN

          Sue and Sheila – Type 1 diabetes is a lack of insulin from the pancreas. Type 2 diabetes is the inability of the insulin to transfer sugars across cell membranes properly. Two totally different types of diabetes. Type 1 has nothing to do with weight as the doctor correctly stated.

  • Junior

    I have T2 Diabetes. Almost a year ago, I took the ADA diet and threw it away. As of today, I am 62 lbs. lighter, FBG/A1C near normal levels, and feeling great. I eat a high fat, high protein, and low carbohydrate diet. No grains or gluten. I took myself off of insulin and oral meds. That helped the weight come off too. Last blood work showed triglycerides at 121 and BP at 110/70. I am not a profit center for the medical or pharmaceutical industry. I am a person who is smart enough to research and take a risk to improve health. I’m glad I did what I did.

    • Opal simmons

      I am 71 6 mo ago my sugar was normal a few days ago I cked my sugar and it was 300. I started counting carbs and in just a few days it is right at 250. I do not want to go on meds. Any suggestions

      • T2d guest

        I have done well by avoiding refined carbs, relying on vegetables and low-GI fruits for most of my carbs, not eating more than one carb serving per meal, not eating any meal without vegetables and protein.

  • kpoko

    Given the fact that we have a diabetes epidemic “out of control” (per the International Diabetes Federaton), this advice is too watered down. Sad to see the Cleveland Clinic continuing to provide poorly stated nutritional advice given the enormity of this disease. The number of people who will get this disease will continue to skyrocket in the next 10 years and the Clinic advice falls short, especially regarding obesity and overweight issues. Ring the alarms! Obesity is a major indicator of the onset of diabetes.
    The Clinic is World Class Clinic in treating diseases and a poor resource in preventing diseases by sending out this kind of weak message. Readers should go to NutritionFacts.org for nutritional advice to help achieve wellness through proper choices in our diets and learn real practical facts vs myths related to this disease.

  • Frankie McDonald

    I need acdr that can deal with gastric bypass with type 2. No one in our area can treat bith tgeycdonot understand how they work together.

  • Renee

    Replacing butter with vegetable oil is not a prudent or safe recommendation. Perhaps the author of this article would benefit from reading the LA Vets Admin Hospital Study, the longest RCT that examined this issue. The trial was stopped after 8 years b/c the vegetable oil subjects had significant rise in deaths due to cancer and other deaths. http://robbwolf.com/2014/02/12/coming-out/

  • Canuck416

    Good grief, I can’t believe they are still recommending this Standard American Diet (SAD) approach that got everyone in trouble in the first place. If you really want to take charge of your diabetes stop eating processed vegetable oils, soy, grains, added sugar, trans fats, high fructose corn syrup and processed foods in general. Instead ditch your fear of fat, focus on seasonal, local and organic produce when possible including pastured meats, wild fish, free range poultry and eggs. Avoid food in boxes containing chemicals you can’t pronounce and stick to real food. Once I chose this approach two years ago I got healthy quickly. Blood pressure dropped from 130/90 to 105/75, blood sugars and lipids normalized and I lost 48 lbs.

  • confuse

    In 20 years you be told this was all wrong.

    • T2d guest

      We already have been told this is all wrong.

  • Janine Wilson

    I wish you could physically punch articles.

  • Nancy Roach McReynolds

    Last November I weighed 300 pounds. I have removed wheat, sugar and white rice from my food choices. I don’ t count calories and to date I have lost 50 pounds. I am 67, a heart patient and have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I know that if I continue with fresh vegetables, fruits, lean meats and NO FRIED FOODS, I will continue to loose the weight and perhaps be able to reduce prescription drugs or end them all together.