Debunking Diabetes Myths

Whether you are living with diabetes or wanting to know more about this condition, there is a lot of information out there. Read on to get the facts and dispel some common myths about diabetes.
Published November 9, 2021

November 14 is World Diabetes Day, which is the largest diabetes campaign in the world. As a global health issue, World Diabetes Day aims to promote the importance of addressing diabetes in more than 160 countries around the world.

All About Diabetes

In Canada, there are 11 million people currently living with diabetes or pre-diabetes (a diagnosis that indicates increased risk of diabetes). Diabetes is a condition where your body either cannot produce insulin, or it cannot use it properly.

Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas that helps regulate the amount of glucose (sugar) in your blood. After eating, your body breaks down any carbohydrates consumed into sugar, which then gets absorbed into the bloodstream. Insulin’s job is to help that sugar move from the blood into your cells, where it can be used for energy. If there’s no insulin produced, or your body can’t respond to it properly, your blood sugar levels remain elevated. This is what happens in diabetes, and over time high blood sugar levels can cause damage to organs, blood vessels, and nerves.

The Difference Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

There are a few different types of diabetes, but the most common ones are known as Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. They have different causes and different approaches to how they are managed.

Type 1 diabetes

Also known as insulin-dependent diabetes, this is an autoimmune disease where the body attacks the pancreas so it cannot produce insulin. Without this important hormone, blood sugar levels remain high because sugar cannot be moved from the blood into the cells where it is needed. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in childhood or adolescence, but it can develop in adulthood. It is managed with injections of insulin or use of an insulin pump to help regulate blood sugar levels.

Type 2 diabetes

This is the most common type of diabetes, accounting for 90 percent of all cases. In Type 2 diabetes, either the body can’t produce enough insulin, or it can’t properly use the insulin it has. Type 2 diabetes is more common in adulthood. It can often be managed with healthy eating and regular physical activity, but medications or insulin may be needed as well.

Fact vs Fiction: Dispelling Common Myths About Diabetes

Myth: Diabetes is caused by eating too much sugar.

Fact: Eating too much sugar does not directly cause diabetes. It is a complex condition and numerous factors play a role in its development. However, consuming too much sugar can lead to weight gain, and obesity is a known risk factor for Type 2 diabetes. If you are living with diabetes, it is important to watch your overall carbohydrate and sugar intake, as diabetes makes it more challenging for your body to manage its blood sugar levels.

Myth: People living with diabetes should not eat any carbohydrate-containing foods.

Fact: Carbohydrates are an important source of energy for our bodies. However, they do impact blood sugar levels so it’s important to choose high quality, nutrient-rich sources of carbohydrates more often:

  • Whole, unprocessed, non-starchy veggies such as lettuce, broccoli, tomatoes, and cucumbers are high in fibre and low in carbohydrates.
  • While portion size matters, you can also choose whole, minimally processed starchy carbohydrates including fruit such as apples, berries, and melons; whole intact grains such as brown rice, whole grain pasta and oatmeal; beans and lentils; and starchy vegetables such as green peas and sweet potato.
  • It’s best to limit refined and highly processed carbohydrates such as sugary drinks, refined grains such as white bread and white rice, and cookies and candies.

Myth: People living with diabetes need to follow a special “diabetic” diet.

Fact: No special diets or foods are needed if you have diabetes. In general, people with diabetes can follow the same type of healthy eating plan as those without diabetes. What is most important is to choose lots of non-starchy vegetables, whole grains instead of refined grains, and to limit added sugars and sugary beverages.

Myth: People living with diabetes cannot be physically active.

Fact: Physical activity is very important for people with diabetes. Exercise helps with weight control, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and builds strong muscles and bones. It also helps reduce blood sugar levels and improves your body’s ability to use insulin. It’s most ideal to exercise one to three hours after eating, when your blood sugar levels are higher. If you take insulin, be sure to test your blood sugar levels before and after exercise, so you can make any adjustments to food or insulin intake if necessary.

Overall, healthy eating and physical activity are important components of managing diabetes. Consult with your healthcare practitioner to determine the appropriate balance of carbohydrates in your food plan, particularly if you take oral medications or insulin.