Type 2 Diabetes Myths and the Truth Behind Them

wooman checking her blood sugar

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, and people are at higher risk if they are African American, Latino, Native American, or Asian American/Pacific Islanders. 

In Type 2 diabetes, the body does not properly use insulin, causing blood sugar levels to become too high. Most typically, Type 2 is treated with changing lifestyle and eating habits, taking oral medications or insulin. 

Despite its high level of diagnosis, many myths are surrounding the condition. 

Here are some of the most common: 

  • Obesity causes diabetes 
  • While it is true that being overweight does increase your risk for Type 2 diabetes, it does not always mean that it will develop. People of all shapes and sizes have diabetes, as many risk factors come into play.  

In addition to being overweight, other risk factors include: 

  • Being over the age of 45 years 
  • Having a parent, brother, or sister with diabetes 
  • If you are of African American, Hispanic/Latino American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Asian American, or Pacific Islander descent 
  • Low physical activity levels 
  • Previous diagnosis of gestational diabetes 
  • High blood pressure 
  • Low HDL “good” cholesterol or high triglyceride levels 

Diabetes is caused by overeating sugar. 

This myth is easily believable, as sugar intake is what must be controlled after you are diagnosed with diabetes. The exact cause of Type 2 diabetes is unknown, however many factors come into play including overall diet, lifestyle, and genetics. While there is an association between sugar intake and diabetes risk, it is not the leading cause of Type 2 diabetes. A diet high in calories from any source (including sugar) contributes to weight gain, which increases your overall risk for diabetes. Nevertheless, limiting added sugars remains a good step toward preventing Type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases. 

People with diabetes can’t eat carbohydrates. 

Carbohydrates are an essential part of any person’s diet, even if you have diabetes. Carbohydrates act as the body’s main source of energy and are the primary fuel source for the brain. You don’t have to avoid carbs, but it is essential to focus on the TYPES of carbohydrates you eat. It is necessary to choose sources that are high in fiber, to slow the absorption of sugar and help improve blood sugar levels. Fiber also helps to lower cholesterol. High cholesterol levels are typical among Type 2 diabetics, making fiber beneficial in more than one way. 

Good dietary sources of fiber are whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes. Simple sugars, on the other hand, cause a rapid increase in blood sugar and provide little-to-no benefit for your health. Examples of these include sodas, candy, desserts, sugar-sweetened beverages, and similar products. Dietitians recommend limiting these items to maximize your health and keep your blood sugar within the recommended range. 

My doctor told me I have pre-diabetes, so I don’t need to worry about diet and exercise yet. 

Pre-diabetes means that your blood sugar is higher than normal and you are at an increased risk for developing diabetes. If your doctor tells you that you are pre-diabetic or borderline diabetic, this is your wake-up call. Now is the time to focus on your health, so it doesn’t progress into a full diagnosis of diabetes. 

If I eat healthily and exercise, I don’t have to take my medication anymore. 

In some cases, weight loss, dietary management, and exercise can reverse diabetes and result in a person no longer needing medications. For some people — even through lifestyle management — may still need a little help from medicine. Just remember, don’t rely solely on medication to control blood sugar. Continue to improve your overall health by eating healthy and staying active. Your healthcare team will work with you to create the best care plan for you. 

Insulin causes weight gain 

Insulin helps your body use the energy from food more efficiently. While many people beginning an insulin regimen do experience weight gain, it is avoidable with the right approach. To help prevent weight gain, focus on portion control to manage how many calories you are eating and exercise regularly. If you are concerned about weight gain, consult a Registered Dietitian for guidance. 

It is not safe to exercise with diabetes  

Exercise is an important tool for diabetes management. Regular physical activity increases your body’s sensitivity to insulin, which will help lower your blood sugar. It also helps relieve stress, improves sleep, and aids in weight loss/maintenance. General guidelines for physical activity are 150 minutes per week. That is the equivalent to only 30 minutes, five days a week. Check your blood sugar before you exercise to determine if you are within a safe range to perform physical activity. Ask your healthcare provider for a safe blood sugar range for your situation. Remember to stay hydrated and check your feet for any blisters, cuts or sores after exercise. 

Fruit is healthy, so I can have as much as I want 

While fruit is considered a healthy snack, it is still classified as a carbohydrate. This means that it will cause an increase in your blood sugar. As with all other sources of carbohydrates, moderation is key. You can fit fruits into a healthy meal plan while maintaining consistent and appropriate carbohydrate intake. 

People with diabetes need to follow a special diet  

The majority of healthcare professionals wouldn’t necessarily label the diabetic diet as a “special” diet. People with diabetes benefit from the same food that is considered healthy for everyone else, and a diet that is highly recommended for the general population. You have likely heard these guidelines your entire life: Eat high-fiber carbohydrate sources, high-quality protein, an abundance of non-starchy vegetables and incorporate healthy fat sources to benefit your overall health and prevent chronic disease. At the same time, dietitians recommend limiting your intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, candy, desserts, fried foods, and highly processed convenience items. These foods don’t need to be avoided forever. Reserve them for special occasions and always remember to use portion control. 

If you have diabetes, complications are unavoidable 

Long-term complications of diabetes develop gradually when your blood sugar is not controlled over an extended period. With proper management of blood sugar through diet, exercise, and medication, these complications can be prevented or delayed. 

 

About the Author

Author: Hayley Esdaile , Registered Dietitian

Hayley Esdaile is a Registered Dietitian at Lompoc Valley Medical Center. She works closely with both inpatient and outpatient services and is also involved in nutrition education outreach. Hayley holds a bachelor's degree in Nutrition Science with a concentration in Dietetics from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

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