By Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, LDN, Special to Everyday Health
If you were recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, or even if you have had diabetes for a long time, you may be confused about how to eat to manage your blood glucose levels. It seems that everyone has an opinion, and many of these opinions contradict each other.
So what are you to believe? And what truly works at helping you maintain your glucose levels in a healthy range?
Let’s take a look at some of the biggest diabetes diet myths, why they don’t work, and what actually will.
Myth No. 1 : If You Have Diabetes, You Must Avoid All Sugar
The Truth :Excess sugar is not good for anyone’s diet, regardless of whether they have diabetes or not. However, just because you have diabetes, not all sugar and sweets are off limits. All carbohydrates, including simple sugars as well as complex carbohydrates, are broken down into glucose during digestion. This glucose is then used as energy in your cells. Because all forms of carbohydrates break down into glucose and therefore raise your glucose levels, you need to monitor your total carbohydrate intake, especially at one sitting, for optimal glucose management.
Although you must be careful not to overeat carbohydrates at one sitting, you can still indulge in a few sweet treats at times. Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, whole fruits and vegetables, and low-fat milk are the best choices for everyone, due to their rich nutrient and fiber content. But you can enjoy a food containing simple sugars, such as a cookie, in moderation without spiking your glucose levels, as long as you keep the portion under control. Keep in mind, however, that when it comes to simple sugars, moderation is key for everyone, not just people with diabetes.
Myth No 2 : Any White Food Is Bad
The Truth : When you think of white foods, what comes to mind? White flour, white sugar, white bread? What about white potatoes, cauliflower, and onions? Are all of these white foods bad for glucose levels? Definitely not! Sure, some white foods are highly processed, such as enriched flour and sugar. But just because a food is white in appearance doesn't mean it will be rapidly converted into glucose in the body and therefore spike your levels. In fact, white vegetables such as cauliflower and onions are excellent for blood glucose control as they are very low in calories and high in fiber, and provide few carbohydrates.
White potatoes get a bad rap as well. It is true that sweet potatoes are digested more slowly and prompt a smaller elevation in glucose levels after eating, but that doesn’t mean you need to avoid white potatoes if you have diabetes. In moderation, and as part of a balanced meal – with vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats – you can enjoy white potatoes as your starch and still maintain healthy glucose levels.
Myth No 3 :The Only Way to Lower Glucose Levels and Weight Is to Follow a Low- or No-Carb Diet
The Truth : If you are newly diagnosed with diabetes, you may feel as though everyone around you is telling you to steer clear of all sources of carbohydrates. Since carbohydrates are found in everything from fruit to bread to milk and even vegetables, you may feel as though there’s nothing left to eat. But the good news is that you can still eat carbohydrates. Managing diabetes is about keeping your glucose levels in a healthy range. Too-high glucose levels can damage your body, but too-low levels can be dangerous as well. Eating carbohydrates as part of a well-balanced diet will help you keep your levels within a healthy range.
Instead of avoiding carbohydrates, focus instead on choosing the healthiest types. Select whole vegetables and fruits, whole-grain bread, and low-fat dairy for a diet rich in nutrients and fiber. Space your carbohydrate intake out throughout the day by balancing your plate with carbs, lean protein, and healthy fat at each meal. A balanced diet will not only help you achieve optimal glucose levels, it will also improve your overall health.
Myth No. 4 :Sugar-Free Foods Won’t Impact Blood-Sugar Levels
The Truth :The Sugar-free foods do not necessarily equal carbohydrate-free foods. Many foods marketed as sugar-free have replaced sugar with sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols provide fewer calories and make less of an impact on glucose levels than regular sugar, but they can still elevate glucose levels if you consume them in large amounts. In addition, bread-based sugar-free foods, such as sugar-free desserts, are typically rich in carbohydrates from sources such as flour and grains. It’s essential to read labels carefully on sugar-free foods. Look at the total grams of carbohydrates and not just grams of sugar. If you focus only on the marketing claims, such as “sugar-free,” you may struggle to lower your glucose levels without knowing why.
As you can see, there are many diet myths surrounding diabetes. But managing your glucose levels doesn’t have to be complicated. A balanced diet rich in whole foods and limited in processed foods and simple sugars – the same diet that we should all follow, regardless of whether we have diabetes or not! – can help you keep your glucose levels in a healthy range.
Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, LDN, is a nationally recognized nutrition and fitness expert who has contributed to national media outlets such as the CBS Early Show, Erin is the author of multiple publications including Belly Fat Diet For Dummies and 2-Day Diabetes Diet, and co-author of Flat Belly Cookbook For Dummies. She specializes in the areas of diabetes, adult and child weight management, sports nutrition, and cardiovascular disease.