Here are some common myths and facts about diets for diabetic people.
- Diabetes is caused by eating too much sugar
FALSE. There are several types of diabetes and none is caused by eating too much sugar in itself. Type 1 diabetes is an immune system disease that attacks the pancreas and prevent it from making insulin, which is required to absorbed glucose (produced by the digestion of starches and sugars). Type 2 diabetes is tied to an inadequate diet, lack of exercise and in some cases, genes. Gestational diabetes is believed to be caused by hormones from the placenta that interferes with the mother’s insulin production. Some people can consume a high amount of sugars and never develop diabetes; some may consume a modest amount and yet have diabetes.
- People with diabetes can’t eat carbs
FALSE. Carbs are the preferred source of energy for the body. What matters are the amount and the quality of carbs. Moderation is key, and this, for all food we consume. Also, it takes longer for the body to digest complex (good) carbs, such as found in whole products (whole wheat food, legumes, etc), rather than simple (bad) carbs (white bread, “refined” pasta, sugar, etc), resulting in slower glucose release in the blood over time. This in turn prevents glucose spikes, and helps insulin (natural or injected) correctly process glucose absorption. Plus whole wheat food (and whole food in general) provides many more nutrients than processed food.
- Low-carb diets are best
FALSE. When it comes to choosing a diet, people often go with their taste and belief, and some swear by low-carb diets. However, to provide enough energy, a low-carb diet must include more proteins and fats. In the US, most choose animal proteins, and end up consuming high amount of meat, which raises the acidity of blood. The body neutralizes that acidity by using calcium, first from the food consumed, but if there’s not enough (as it commonly is in low-carb diet because it’s mostly found in fruits and vegetables, often banned or limited in those diets), the body pulls out calcium from the bones. Over time, this lead to osteoporosis, a deterioration of the bones. Equally important is the higher consumption of fats, which invariably increases the risk of heart diseases, strokes and some cancers. Plus, high consumption of fats is tied to Type 2 diabetes. The benefits of low-carb diets are highly debated among scientists and marketers. Alternatives are whole food, plant-based diets, or the popular DASH diet.
- Proteins are better than carbs
FALSE. Both are a source of energy in the body. Carbs are digested and broken down into glucose, which is the preferred source of energy for the brain, muscles and other tissues. Proteins are broken down in amino acids and are used for maintaining the body structure and growth. The body can adjust within a few days to use proteins as a source of energy if there’s not enough carbs to produce glucose. The body does so by converting some proteins into glucose (glucose is essential for the body to work, regardless where it comes from), and extracting fatty acids from fat cells, a process that induces ketosis, a potentially harmful condition. Long-term effect of protein-rich diets are debated among scientists and marketers.
- A diabetic diet is too limited and too hard to follow
FALSE. There’s no such thing as a “diabetic diet”. When it comes to diet, diabetic people are no different than anybody else: they are encouraged to eat a balanced diet, which consists of a variety of whole food, lean meat, fish, dairy, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nut, and drinking plenty of water. Some even advocate dropping meat, fish, dairy and/or nuts for optimum health benefits. A balanced diet provides plenty of good carbs, fair amounts of proteins and fats, and all the nutrients the body needs. Processed food, restaurant food, sweets, deserts, treats, snacks must be limited because of their nutritional deficiency, high fat and/or sugar content, and high calorie content, which lead to multiple health complications, among them, Type 2 diabetes.
- Diabetic people must consumed special food aimed at them
FALSE. Some food are labeled and targeted at diabetic people. In reality, those food have absolutely no additional health benefit whatsoever for diabetic people over other people. They often are low in nutrients (because highly processed), and theirs carb content must be counted and covered by insulin if need be.
- Sugar free and food with artificial sweetener can be consumed freely.
FALSE. There are different types of carbs, sugar being only one of them. Those food do contain carbs (sugar alcohol) that will be digested and turned into glucose, so they can not be consumed freely. Health advocates recommend to skip on food with artificial products and consume unprocessed, whole food.
All in all, people with diabetes should, like anybody else, consume a healthy, balanced diet and aim to consume whole food and high quality food that provide all the nutrients the body needs and limit highly processed food, restaurant food, deserts and sweets.