Diabetes myths and facts

Amanda O'Brien
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November is diabetes awareness month across Canada. It’s important that we all have the facts straight when it comes to diabetes, as we have a high prevalence of the disease here in our province. Read on as I dispel some more common myths.

Myth: Diabetes is not a serious disease.

Fact: Diabetes is serious business. However, if you manage it properly, complications can be prevented or delayed. Diabetes and pre-diabetes prevalence here in the province is expected to rise to 32 per cent in the next six years; this is thought to be the highest provincially across Canada. Average out-of-pocket costs across the province (2009) are also among some of the highest provincially, too, at just under $3,400, or an estimated 11.3 per cent of an individual's annual income.


Myth: Eating too much sugar causes diabetes.

Fact: The answer to this isn’t that simple, but to say eating sugar directly causes diabetes would be false. Type 1 diabetes is likely caused by genetics and unknown factors that trigger the disease, whereas Type 2 is caused by genetics and lifestyle factors. Being overweight does increase your risk for developing Type 2 diabetes, and a diet high in calories from any source can ultimately lead to weight gain. Research has shown that drinking a lot of sugary drinks (e.g. regular soda, fruit drinks, energy drinks and even sweet tea) can be linked to Type 2 diabetes.


Myth: Diabetes doesn’t run in my family, so I am safe.

Fact: Genetics is only one of the risk factors for Type 2 diabetes. Others include having pre-diabetes, being overweight, not exercising regularly, having high blood pressure, having low HDL (healthy cholesterol) and/or high levels of triglycerides (a specific type of blood fat), belonging to certain racial and ethnic groups, or being a women who has gestational diabetes or given birth to a baby over nine pounds.


Myth: Type 1 diabetes is a more serious than Type 2.

Fact: Both types of diabetes are equally serious. When blood sugars are left uncontrolled, it can lead to serious complications such as heart or kidney disease, blindness, nerve damage and amputation.


Myth: Low carbohydrate diets are good for those with diabetes as they need to avoid carbs.

Fact: Carbohydrates (carbs) are the body’s preferred source of energy, and everyone needs a specific amount each day to help the mind, muscles and rest of body properly function. Carb-containing foods ideally should comprise about 50 to 60 per cent of your total calories each day. That’s for people with or without diabetes. Low carb diets can often overloaded with protein and fat, as aside from carbs, these are the only other two nutrients we can get energy from (alcohol aside). Following a high fat, high protein diet over the long term has been shown to increase risks of heart or kidney disease in adulthood (people with diabetes are already at increased risk for this), another reason why it is ideal for half the body’s calories to come from foods like fruits and veggies, low fat dairy, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.


Myth: If you have Type 2 diabetes and need to go on insulin it means your diabetes is getting worse.

Fact: Type 2 diabetes is often a progressive disease, meaning it does often get worse over time. In the beginning, many people can keep their blood sugar at a healthy level with diet or oral medications alone. Over time, though, more intervention may be needed to keep blood glucose levels normal as the body will produce less and less insulin. In reality, using insulin to get blood glucose levels under control is a good thing, a really good thing. Insulin is the body's natural way of bringing blood sugar under control.


Myth: People who have diabetes need to lose a significant amount of weight to see improvements in diabetes.

Fact: If you are overweight, losing just seven per cent of your weight can have significant health benefits. So if you’re 200 pounds, that’s losing 15, and if you’re 250 it means a loss of just under 18 pounds.


Amanda Burton is a registered dietitian

in St. John’s. Contact her through the website: www.recipeforhealth.ca.

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