Misconceptions on Diet for People with Diabetes

Misconceptions on Diet for People with Diabetes

Dietitian Lucas Lim
Dietitian Lucas Lim

Diabetes is a complex disease and a common health problem in Malaysia. We may have heard conflicting advice on when to eat, what not to eat, and how to manage diabetes. Sometimes, sourcing information about diabetic diet can leave us confused and misinformed. Moreover, diabetes misconceptions can lead to guilt feeling and affecting our health. So, let’s get to the truth behind some of the common food misconceptions for diabetics.

1. I seldom eat sweets or sugary foods, but yet I HAVE diabetes

According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), sugar alone does not cause diabetes. In a healthy individual, the body breaks down foods, especially carbohydrates into glucose. A hormone called insulin produced by the pancreas will help glucose enter body cells to be used as energy. Diabetes occurs when the body cannot produce or effectively use its insulin. Because of this, glucose is not able to effectively enter the cells, causing it to accumulate in circulation. Diabetes is diagnosed when glucose (sugar) in the blood is abnormally high

There are three common types of diabetes :

  1. Type 1 diabetes (T1DM) occurs when the pancreas cannot produce insulin. This is because the insulin-producing beta-cells in the pancreas are destroyed by an auto-immune process.
  2. Type 2 diabetes (T2DM) occurs when the pancreas does not produce sufficient insulin and/or the insulin does not work properly. This is usually caused by lifestyle factors such as being obese, having poor diet (and stress) and/or genetic predisposition when the body cells are resistant to insulin action – a condition referred to as “insulin resistance”.
  3. Gestational diabetes (GDM) occurs when hormonal changes occur during pregnancy causing a rise in blood glucose level. True GDM usually resolves after birth of the child.

2. I HAVE AVOIDED carbohydrate foods, yet my blood sugar is still on the high side

Carbohydrates are the foundation of a healthy diet regardless of whether we have diabetes or not. Our body needs glucose as energy. This glucose comes from foods (mainly carbohydrates and sugars) and also from the liver. In the absence of glucose from foods, the liver will break down stored glycogen to release glucose into circulation. Liver can also convert protein and fat into glucose, if necessary. One effect of “insulin resistance” is that the liver is not responding well to insulin, continuing to produce glucose even though blood glucose level is already normal or high. As such, in diabetics, blood glucose may still be high even though patients have avoided taking carbohydrates.

Not all carbohydrates are created equal. There are whole carbohydrates and also refined (processed) carbohydrates. Whole carbohydrates such as grains, legumes, fruits, and potatoes are unprocessed and rich in vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and fibre that can help control blood glucose level. In contrast, refined carbohydrates such as white rice, noodles, kuey teow, sugar-sweetened beverages are processed and low in fibre and nutrients. Worse, they can cause rapid rise in blood glucose level.

Instead of avoiding carbohydrates, we should focus on choosing whole carbohydrates and control portion size. Use the “healthy-plate” concept to balance your intake of carbohydrates, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats. A well- balanced diet will help maintain your blood glucose level in an optimal range and improves your overall health.

3. “I cannot eat fruits because they contain sugar that can cause my blood sugar to spike”

Fruits contain natural sugar, fibre, vitamins, and minerals. The fibre in the fruits is able to slow down absorption of sugar from the fruits, thus helping improve blood glucose level. For a diabetic, it is best to consume fresh fruit after a meal to prevent blood glucose spikes. Also remember to control its portion size

We are now clear of the facts behind the misconceptions of diabetic diet. Consult your dietitian on proper diet for you based on your food preference and lifestyle choice, to improve blood glucose control, general health, and prevent complications. Remember that false information is worse than no information. So, seek correct health information from reliable sources or from your healthcare professionals.

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