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.