Debunking Diabetes Diet Myths
Written by Erin Goodrich, MS, RD, CDN, CDE
So you’ve just been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Now what? For many, this can be a scary time, with an abundance of questions. As a registered dietitian and a diabetes educator, one of the first things many patients say to me is, “I don’t know what to eat. I’ve been afraid to eat anything!”
Indeed, that question is probably on the forefront of your mind if your healthcare professional has informed you or a loved one that you have diabetes. Patients will seek out dietary advice from various sources; however, there is a lot of misinformation about diet and diabetes on the internet and from well-meaning friends or family members. To help get you started on the right path, here are some common myths registered dietitians often hear when counseling patients:
1) “I don’t eat anything with sugar, so my blood glucose will be fine, right?”
Most people believe if they avoid foods commonly thought of as high in sugar, blood glucose will remain stable. Patients normally list off avoided foods such as ice cream, cookies, soda, desserts, juice, and even fruit. In reality, while sugar will raise your blood glucose, it is also part of a larger food group called carbohydrates. Any food containing carbohydrates will affect your blood glucose in some way.
2) “So carbs are bad for me now?”
Not true! This is usually the second statement out of patient’s mouths once we discuss carbohydrates and the effect they have on blood glucose. While carbohydrates do break down and raise your blood glucose levels once digested, our bodies actually need this glucose. Glucose from food is our body’s most readily available source of fuel, and is needed for muscle and brain function (ever have a hard time thinking or concentrating once it gets close to lunchtime? This is your body telling you it needs a source of fuel – ie, glucose). That being said, not all sources of carbohydrates are created equal. The best carbohydrates to choose from are complex, unrefined carbs. These carbohydrates are high in fiber, which is harder for your body to digest and thus keeps you full for longer periods of time. Since your body digests fiber more slowly, it has less of the “spiking” effect on your blood glucose that you see with refined, processed carbohydrates. Good choices of high fiber carbs are whole-grain bread, bran cereals, oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, and whole-grain pasta.
3) “Fruit is too high in sugar”
Actually, the sugar found in fruit is a natural sugar called fructose. This is different from the type of processed sugar added to beverages and foods, which is predominately sucrose. Due to the fact that fruit contains both fructose and fiber (which remember, is hard for the body to break down and slows digestions), fructose is broken down and absorbed into the bloodstream at a slower rate than sucrose. Additionally, research shows that diets higher in fruit are associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Fruits rich in fiber that are good choices include apples, strawberries, oranges, and pears.
4) “How much should I eat?”
Just remember: size does matter! Most people underestimate the portions they serve themselves. One easy way to keep your portions in check is to use the Plate Method for meal planning. Envision a 9-inch dinner plate: fill one-half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables (think broccoli, leafy greens, cauliflower, and asparagus). The other half of your plate divide in half again and fill one side with approximately 3 ounces of lean protein, such as chicken, fish, turkey, or tofu (not sure what 3 ounces look like? Picture a portion about the size of a deck or cards or the palm of your hand). On the opposite side of your plate, fill with a healthy, high fiber carbohydrate choice (think brown rice, whole grain pasta, quinoa, or beans). Aim for one-half to one cup of carbohydrate per meal, less if you are including a fruit or 8 oz glass of milk.
If you are still feeling overwhelmed, seek help from reputable sources. Ask your health care provider for a referral to a local registered dietitian who can help you develop a meal plan that is right for you (remember, with diabetes there is no “one size fits all”!). If you are tech-savvy, good sources for accurate nutrition information include the American Diabetes Association’s Food and Fitness webpage or the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website.
Mahan, Kathleen; Escott-Stump, S; Raymond, J. “Krause’s Food and the Nutrition Care Process”. Intake: Nutrients and Their Metabolism. Ed. Yvonne Alexopoulos. St. Louis: Elsevier Saunders, 2012. 33-39. Print.
Dennett, Carrie. “Busting the Top 10 Carb Myths.” Today’s Dietitian: The Magazine for Nutrition Professionals. April 2016 Issue, Volume 18 No 4 P 30. https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0416p30.shtml