Diabetes Myths and Facts

For Diabetes Awareness Month, let’s learn to tell the difference between diabetes myths and facts.

There are two kinds of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2. They are very different from each other, and so are the ways to manage them.  It’s important to know the difference!

Most diabetes information that appears online, in print, on TV or the radio refers to Type 2, so let’s focus on Type 1 now.

Myth: All types of diabetes are created equal.

Type 1 diabetes–previously called “juvenile diabetes”– prevents the pancreas from producing enough insulin, which is a hormone that lets the body turn blood glucose (also called “blood sugar”) into energy. The only way to manage Type 1 diabetes is with multiple daily insulin injections or insulin pump therapy and checking blood sugars.

The pancreas in people with Type 2 diabetes can make insulin, but blood glucose remains elevated for other reasons.

Myth: People with Type 1 diabetes must follow a “diabetic diet” with no sugar or carbs.

Complex carbohydrates are our best source of energy. As a dietitian who helps people with Type 1 diabetes, I make sure food plans are full of whole grains, fruit, vegetables, lean protein and plant-based fats. These healthy foods should be the basis of everyone’s diet–especially growing and developing children.

For Type 1 diabetes, a treat is fine in moderation, on special occasions.

The only foods that are off-limits are concentrated sweets like juice, regular soda, so-called “sports drinks,” pure sugar candies or syrup. All of these are nutritionally empty. I encourage everyone—whether they have diabetes or not–to avoid them entirely.

Myth: Sugar-free means carbohydrate-free

Sugar-free fare like cookies, cake, candy and ice cream still have carbohydrates and will raise blood glucose. Such sugar-free items are recommended only in moderation, so you might as well indulge with a piece of real chocolate or a scoop of real ice cream on special occasions instead.

The only sugar-free “foods” I recommend are soft drinks. One or two artificially sweetened drinks a day is OK, and water is even better.

Myth: Type 1 diabetes only occurs in children.

Type 1 diabetes can occur at any age. Sometimes adults get a Type 2 diabetes diagnosis because they are over 18. Healthcare providers should keep an open mind and screen for Type 1 and Type 2.

Fact: The only difference between people with Type 1 diabetes and people without it is that people with Type 1 takes insulin from the outside and people without it produce insulin internally.

Someone living with Type 1 diabetes is not sick–they simply supplement their insulin supply from the outside because their bodies don’t producing insulin on the inside. There are no limitations as to what a person living with Type 1 diabetes can do.

Learn more about diabetes myths and facts and make new friends at one of North Shore-LIJ’s diabetes support groups.

3 Responses to “Diabetes Myths and Facts”

  1. Kathleen Vazzana

    I feel compelled to leave a comment. I believe that this article does not reflect the challenges that type 1 diabetics must face every day. Making light of having type 1 by saying they ‘simply supplement their insulin supply from the outside’ does not do justice to the life a type 1 diabetic must live each day. I also believe (as you wrote) that there is no limitation to what type 1 diabetics can do — except their journey is not along an easy path. If you are a type 1 diabetic or have a family member who is type 1 then you will realize that. My 23 year old daughter is type 1. Thank you for allowing me to provide input.

  2. Devon Collins

    Kathleen, I appreciate your input. Please keep in mind that this blog post addressed general information and the misconceptions of how people commonly view diabetes. Many people view those who are living with diabetes as being “sick” and it is simply not true. It is important to remember that their diabetes does not define them. I completely agree with you that Type 1 diabetes requires a great deal of time and management on a daily basis as I have been living with Type 1 diabetes for over 25 years. The management of Type 1 diabetes could have a blog post of its own! I work with parents of children living with diabetes every day and agree that their journey is not always an easy path.

    • Kathleen Vazzana

      Thank you for your response and for expanding on your thoughts. I have a great respect for people living with type 1. All the best….


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