Diabetes Myths

Separating the myths and facts of diabetes

Does sugar cause diabetes?


Do you have diabetes or prediabetes? If so, you may be getting a lot of messages about it. Some of those messages may be conflicting, and some may be difficult to believe. Which information is true, and which should you ignore? These are 7 myths about diabetes, and the truths behind them.

 

Myth 1: I will get diabetes if I am overweight.


Truth: Not everyone who is overweight gets diabetes, and not everyone who gets diabetes is overweight. Some people who are overweight are metabolically healthy. Physical activity levels, genetics, and whether or not you smoke affect diabetes risk, too. Age is also an important factor, since insulin sensitivity naturally decreases when you get older.

That said, extra weight is the most common risk factor for diabetes. Your risk of developing type 2 diabetes may be 7 times higher if your BMI is 25 to 29.9 (overweight) and by 20 times higher if your BMI falls into the class 1 obese (BMI 30 to 34.9) category compared to if your BMI is under 25 (“normal weight”). [1]

You can calculate your BMI right here. 

 

Weight gain is another risk factor, with each extra kilogram (2.2 lbs.) you gain raising risk for diabetes by 49% over the next 10 years[2]. As bad as that may sound, take heart: losing a kilogram lowers your risk by 33%!

 
 

Myth 2: Eating sugar causes diabetes.


Truth: Eating sugar does not cause diabetes, but it certainly increases your risk. Study after study links sugar consumption to diabetes, particularly added sugars, which have recently been called out on nutrition labels. The biggest culprits are sugar-sweetened beverages, such as fruit drinks, sodas, flavored coffees, and sports drinks. The reason why sugar leads to diabetes is because it tends to cause weight gain. Sugar may also lead to diabetes by impairing insulin sensitivity, but that is still debatable.

Note that added sugars, not natural sugars, cause these negative effects. The natural sugars in dairy products, such as milk and yogurt, are not linked to diabetes. Neither are the sugars in fruit. In fact, people who eat more fruit may have a lower chance of developing diabetes. [3]

 

Myth 3: People with diabetes cannot eat carbohydrates.


Truth: Carbohydrates can be a healthy part of your diabetes diet. A few carbohydrates are actually necessary for life. Beyond that, you can choose a carb approach that works for you. Some people with diabetes follow a very low-carb ketogenic diet or a nearly-as-restrictive low-carb diet. These diets exclude grains, most legumes, most fruits, sugary foods, and starchy vegetables. Low and very low-carb diets can lower A1C, but they have questionable long-term benefits. They are difficult to follow for long because they can get boring and do not allow for treats and special occasions. They may also pose threats to heart or kidney health.

A moderate carb approach that focuses on healthy carb sources can also work to control blood sugar. By including 1 to 3 small servings of high-carb foods, such as beans, fruit, or starches, at each meal and snack, you can keep your blood sugar levels more stable. Along with keeping portion sizes down, you can help by choosing nutritious sources of carbs, or sugars and starches.

So, a healthier diet for diabetes limits carbohydrates from added sugars and refined starches, but it should include whole grains and fruit. These are not only linked to weight loss and heart health, but also to better blood sugar control.

Limit or Eliminate... Include Regularly in Moderation...
Added Sugars Fruits and Dairy Products
  • White, brown, turbinado, and other sugar, corn syrup, molasses, honey
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages: soft drinks, energy, fruit, and sports drinks, sweet tea and flavored coffee
  • Cakes, pies, cookies, muffins
  • Ice cream, pudding, custard
  • Candy, sweetened chocolate
  • Jam, jelly
  • Flavored oatmeal and yogurt, sweetened breakfast cereals
  • Fresh fruit
  • Unsweetened frozen fruit such as berries, melon, mango, peaches
  • Low-fat and non-fat milk
  • Low-fat and non-fat plain yogurt and Greek yogurt
  • Reduced-fat cottage cheese and ricotta cheese
  • Cheeses such as parmesan, cheddar, feta, goat, mozzarella, swiss
Refined Starches Nutritious Starches
  • White bread, such as sliced bread, English muffins, bagels, tortillas
  • White pasta and rice
  • Rice cakes, white crackers and pretzels
  • Refined breakfast cereals
  • Potato chips, corn chips, tortilla chips
  • French fries, hash browns
  • Whole-grain bread and bread products
  • Whole-grain pasta and brown rice
  • Bulgur, quinoa, barley
  • Brown rice cakes, whole-grain crackers and pretzels
  • Whole-grain breakfast cereals
  • Sweet potatoes, potatoes, winter squash, peas, corn, carrots
 

Myth 4: People with diabetes need to eat special foods. 


Truth: A healthy diet can help people with diabetes control blood sugar better, but the foods do not need to be special. The same types of healthy eating plans that can help improve heart health and control weight can help lower blood sugar. You might choose to follow a Mediterranean-style diet, a DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating pattern, or a general healthy diet based on increasing whole foods and limiting processed foods.

Most people do not need to use special diabetes diet products. Bars, shakes, and other meal replacement and snack options can be expensive and may not offer any benefits over healthy food choices. They can contain highly processed ingredients. Also, eating a bar or drinking a shake may not be as satisfying as eating an entire food-based meal, so these products can get in the way of weight loss in prediabetes or diabetes.

 

Myth 5:  I would start to feel symptoms if I got prediabetes or diabetes.


Truth: Most people with prediabetes do not get symptoms. In fact, 90% of those with an A1C in the prediabetes range do not know that they have prediabetes. [4] Symptoms of prediabetes could include a softening and darkening of the skin at the back of the neck and under the armpits.

If you have diabetes, you might not have any symptoms, or you may notice one or more of the following symptoms.

Excessive thirst and urination.

  • Increased hunger.

  • Unexplained weight loss.

  • Fatigue.

  • Tingling or numbness in hands and feet.

Since it is impossible to know whether you have diabetes or prediabetes without a blood test, you are best off asking your doctor if you should get tested if you are concerned or if you are overweight, over age 45, or have a family history of diabetes or you had gestational diabetes when you were pregnant.

 

Myth 6: Everyone with prediabetes will get diabetes.


Truth: About two out of three people with prediabetes develop type 2 diabetes eventually, but there is a good chance that you do not need to be among them! Research shows that while prediabetes develops into diabetes if you do nothing, you can dramatically lower your risk for developing diabetes with simple lifestyle changes. Losing as little as 7 percent of your body weight - about 12 to 18 pounds for many people - can cut your risk of diabetes by over half, and each of the following changes can add to that effect.

  • Increasing physical activity.

  • Eating more leafy greens and whole grains.

  • Eating less fried food and sugar.

  • Drinking water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages.

  • Avoiding tobacco.

  • Getting adequate sleep.

 

Myth 7: Diabetes is no big deal.


Truth: Diabetes is a huge deal. The only thing about diabetes that is “no big deal” is that a lot of people have it. Other than that, diabetes takes a lot of time to manage, it is expensive, and it can lead to serious health problems.

Diabetes management requires a lot of time and effort on your part. People with diabetes may need to measure blood sugar one or more times every day. You may be on one or more prescription medications, including insulin that may need to be injected one or more times per day. You will need to attend medical checkups with a regular doctor and specialists such as a kidney and food doctor. Insulin is also expensive, and you can’t skip doses.

Aside from the nuisance, and the cost of paying for medications and medical care, diabetes causes health concerns. Complications can include blindness, kidney disease, foot problems, and neuropathy. Diabetes also increases the risk for heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, and hypertension.

 

Bottom Line


You can do a lot to manage prediabetes and diabetes, but you may need some help. Lark DPP for diabetes prevention and Lark Diabetes for diabetes management, and is Fully CDC Recognized. Lark can make it easier to eat healthy, increase physical activity, and do what your doctor says if you need to take medications or monitor blood sugar. You can be in charge of your health with a personal 24/7 health coach in your pocket.

 


Reference

  1.  Hu FB, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, Colditz G, Liu S, Solomon CG, Willett WC. Diet, Lifestyle, and the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus in Women. N Engl J Med. 2001; 345:790-797. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa010492.

  2.  Resnick HE, Valsania P, Halter JB, Lin X. Relation of weight gain and weight loss on subsequent diabetes risk in overweight adults. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2000;54(8):596–602. doi:10.1136/jech.54.8.596

  3.  Muraki I, Imamura F, Manson JE, et al. Fruit consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: results from three prospective longitudinal cohort studies. BMJ. 2013;347:f5001. Published 2013 Sep 28. doi:10.1136/bmj.f5001. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3978819/

  4.  Diabetes Statistics Report, 2017: Estimates of Diabetes and Its Burden in the United States. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/pdfs/data/statistics/national-diabetes-statistics-report.pdf

Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Assistant Professor of Public Health