Exploring diabetes: Part two – Dispelling myths and misconceptions

There are many myths associated with diabetes that make it difficult for people to understand some of the realities of this disease.

As a certified trainer for Diabetes PATH, I’ve heard all kinds of myths related to this disease. I still have participants, diagnosed with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, come to the first class believing they can’t eat any of their favorite foods that contain sugar. Some of these myths and misconceptions come from outdated medical practices and information that is not research-based. 

According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes is a serious and potentially deadly disease – myths only create inaccuracy and promote stereotypes and stigma. Below you will find some of the common myths that are found on the American Diabetes Association website paired with relevant facts:

Myth: Diabetes isn’t a serious disease. 

Fact: Diabetes affects over 25 million people in the United States and is the seventh leading cause of death in this country. According to the National Diabetes Education Program, your chance of having a heart attack nearly doubles if you have diabetes. Sixty-eight percent of diabetics actually die of heart disease or stroke. The good news is that good diabetic management practices can reduce your risk of complications.

Myth: If you’re overweight or obese, you will eventually develop type 2 diabetes.

Fact: Although being overweight is a risk factor, there are many other risks associated with diabetes such as family history, age, ethnicity, etc. Most people who are overweight never develop type 2 diabetes.

Myth: Eating too much sugar causes diabetes.  

Fact: A diet high in calories, from any source, can lead to weight gain which is one of the risk factors associated with diabetes. However, there are many other risk factors associated with this disease, such as a person’s genetics and age. There is research linking the consumption of sugary drinks to diabetes - the American Diabetes Association recommends that we limit our intake of beverages such as regular soda, fruit punch, energy/sports/fruit drinks, etc. to help prevent the onset of diabetes.  

Myth: People with diabetes should eat special diabetic foods.

Fact: People with diabetes can generally follow the same healthy meal plan as those without the disease. According to the American Association of Diabetes Educators,  it’s important for people with diabetes to eat regular meals, control the amount they eat and make healthy food choices to better manage their disease and prevent other health problems. 

Myth: People with diabetes can’t eat sweets, chocolate or starchy foods.

Fact: If sweets and starchy food are eaten as part of a healthy meal plan, or combined with exercise, these foods can be eaten by people with diabetes. There really aren’t any “off limit” foods. The key is to keep track of carbohydrates and watch portion size.

Michigan State University Extension offers many disease prevention and management programs that focus on diabetes. For more information, contact your local Extension office.

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