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.
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.
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.