Scouring the internet for reliable information about the best diet for diabetes may leave you feeling confused.
While there’s no shortage of advice, it’s often challenging to discern fact from fiction.
Below, we debunk 9 common diabetes diet myths.
According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), eating too much sugar alone doesn’t cause diabetes, but it may be a contributing factor in some cases.
Type 1 diabetes is typically caused when an environmental trigger provokes a genetic predisposition for diabetes to express itself. Type 2 diabetes is often triggered by various risk factors, including genetics and certain lifestyle choices.
Some other risk factors that can lead to type 2 diabetes include:
- excess weight
- high blood pressure
- sedentary lifestyle
- age, especially over 45
Sugar-sweetened drinks, such as soda and fruit punch, are high in empty calories, and
Carbs aren’t your enemy. It is not carbs themselves, but the type of carb and the quantity of carb that you eat that is important to consider for those with diabetes.
Not all carbs are created equal. Those that are low on the glycemic index (GI), a measure of how quickly foods with carbohydrates may impact blood sugar levels, are better choices than those with a high GI. Some factors that go into deciding what foods have a low or high GI are:
- nutritional profile
- amount of processing
Examples of carbs with a low GI include:
- rolled or steel cut oatmeal
- whole grain bread
- dried beans and legumes
- low-starch vegetables, such as spinach, broccoli, and tomatoes
It’s also a good idea to choose foods with a lower glycemic load (GL). GL is similar to GI, but it incorporates serving size into the calculation. It’s considered a more accurate estimate of how foods will affect your blood sugar.
If you eat food with a high GI or GL, combining it with food with a low GI or GL can help balance your meal.
Once you pick more balanced carbs, you still need to manage the portion of carbs, as too many carbs can cause higher blood sugar levels.
Stick to your personal carb target when counting carbs. If you don’t have one, ask a healthcare professional what’s best. If you use the plate method of portion control, limit your carbs to one-quarter of the plate.
Starchy foods contain carbohydrates. In addition to foods like bread, pasta, and rice, starchy foods also include starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, corn, beans, and lentils.
While starchy vegetables do contain carbohydrates, they are also rich in other important nutrients and can fit into your meal plan in moderation.
If you’re counting carbohydrates, be sure to include these foods in your daily allotment of carbs. If you’re using the plate method, starchy foods should make up about one-quarter of your plate.
You should also choose high fiber, less processed carbs to get the vitamins and minerals you need while still managing your blood sugar levels.
Enjoying an occasional slice of cake or a cookie won’t prove detrimental for most folks, even those with diabetes. The key is moderation and portion control. In fact, some research
Beware of the “all or nothing” mentality. Feel free to indulge in a small serving of your favorite sweet on special occasions. Just be sure to limit other carbs in your meal to strike a safe balance and stick to your personal carb target.
The ADA mentions that a general guideline is about 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per meal. You can find healthier, low-carb versions of many sweet treats by exploring the plethora of recipes available online.
Alcohol in moderation is OK if your diabetes is well managed. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that women drink no more than one alcoholic beverage per day and that men don’t go over two. One drink is defined as 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.
It’s also a good idea to monitor your blood sugar levels for 24 hours after drinking. Alcohol can potentially cause your blood sugar to drop below normal levels, interfere with your medications, and prevent your liver from producing glucose (which it does in response to a blood sugar drop).
If deciding to drink, try to select alcoholic beverages that are lower in carbs and added sugar whenever possible—such as wine, light beer, or liquor — and limit your intake of sugary mixed drinks, which can cause blood sugar levels to spike.
There are no forbidden fruits on a diabetes-friendly eating plan. In fact, some studies show that eating more whole fruits may actually be
This is because many whole fruits are rich in nutrients, including fiber, which can promote healthy blood sugar levels.
Ideally, opt for fruits that are lower in sugar, such as berries, apples, and grapefruit. However, while it’s true that some fruits contain more natural sugars than others, you can enjoy any of them if you stick to the proper portion sizes.
Taking diabetes medication isn’t a ticket to eat whatever you want, as often as you want. Taking your medication as prescribed is important, but so is following a nutrient-dense diet.
This is because following a diet that’s rich in produce, lean meats, and complex carbs not only helps you manage your diabetes in the long term, it can also help you manage other chronic conditions that could develop along with diabetes, such as cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.
A diabetes-friendly eating plan is like other specialized eating plans, in that some foods support your goals while others may hinder them. Regularly eating foods high in sugar or eating large portions may impede the effectiveness of your medication, as well as interfere with the process of building more diabetes-friendly habits.
According to the American Heart Association, having type 2 diabetes increases your risk of heart attack and stroke. Part of this link is due to the fact that many people with diabetes are also living with extra weight and often have high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels.
To lower your risk of heart issues, avoid trans fats when possible and limit saturated fat in your diet. Eating a lot of foods that are rich in saturated fats, such as high-fat dairy products and fried items, can increase your unhealthy cholesterol levels and raise your risk of heart disease and stroke.
According to the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans, you should avoid trans fats as much as possible, and saturated fats should make up less than 10 percent of your calories in a day.
Walk down almost any grocery store aisle and you’ll find a selection of sugar-free processed foods. But just because an item is labeled “sugar-free” doesn’t make it better for you. It may still contain a lot of simple carbs, fat, or calories.
According to some preliminary studies in animals, certain artificial sweeteners may also impact insulin sensitivity, making it more difficult for your body to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. However, more research is needed before any firm conclusions can be drawn.
Furthermore, although many people assume that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) strictly regulates artificial sweeteners, many food additives enter the market without any oversight.
Despite the controversy around the safety of some artificial sweeteners, the
- aspartame, which you should avoid if you have phenylketonuria
- acesulfame potassium (acesulfame-K)
- sugar alcohols
According to the ADA, using artificial sweeteners in place of sugar to help sweeten foods without adding a lot of carbs every once in a while is most likely fine. But they also caution that there isn’t much evidence that sugar substitutes will help with managing blood sugar or improving cardiometabolic health in the long term.
Additionally, some artificial sweeteners will still add a small number of carbs to your diet, so you’ll need to keep track of how much you use.
Diabetes can be a challenging condition to manage at first, but it gets much easier when you have all the facts and nutrition information.
Eating foods with a low GI and GL, limiting your consumption of alcohol and trans and saturated fats, taking your medications as prescribed by your doctor, and monitoring your blood sugar levels can all help manage your symptoms and help improve overall health.
Once you untangle the myths, you’ll find that a diabetes-friendly eating plan doesn’t have to be overly restrictive or complicated. Instead, it can be healthy, tasty, and easy to follow.
Work with your doctor or dietitian to develop an eating plan that incorporates your favorite foods and helps keep your blood sugar in check.
You should also consult your doctor or dietitian before you make any changes to your diet to help ensure that you’re making the best choices for your health.