Here are some common myths that we have untangled to give you the truth about the disease:
Myth: Type 2 diabetes / Mild or borderline diabetes is not that serious
Fact: All types of diabetes, whether Type 1 or Type 2, are serious and can affect the quality of life, lead to complications (raising the risk for heart attacks, permanent vision loss and other health problems) and reduce life expectancy if not managed well. Diabetes is a silent killer and responsible for more deaths per year than AIDS and breast cancer combined.
Myth: Eating too many sweets causes type 2 diabetes
Fact: Type 2 diabetes is not directly caused by eating too many sweets, but by other risk factors such as lifestyle factors (how much physical activity you get), obesity, genetics (family history), ethnicity, and age. A diet that is high in calories from any source (including sugar) can lead to an increase in weight gain and this in turn can increase the risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
Myth: I do not have a family history of diabetes, so I don’t have to worry
Fact: While family history is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes, there are various other factors that can increase your chance of developing diabetes.
Myth: Only overweight people can get type 2 diabetes
Fact: Anyone can develop type 2 diabetes due to lifestyle factors and genetics. Though overweight and obese people are at a higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes, people who are of healthy weight or those who are moderately overweight can also become diabetic.
Myth – Only old people develop type 2 diabetes
Fact: While type 2 diabetes affected people who were in their 50s or 60s in the past, it is increasingly being diagnosed in younger adults who are in their 30s and 40s, due to sedentary lifestyles, poor eating habits, excess body weight and stress.
Myth: Symptoms of type 2 diabetes are easy to spot
Fact: Symptoms of type 2 diabetes can be so mild and the disease progresses so slowly that many people may not even realize that they have diabetes for many years. Common symptoms of type 2 diabetes, such as frequent urination, increased hunger, extreme thirst, weight loss, slow healing wounds and blurred vision tend to show up after glucose levels have been high for a long time.
Myth: Once you develop diabetes, you have it for life
Fact: Generally, people who are overweight and do not exercise as much as they should tend to develop type 2 diabetes. If such people make lifestyle changes immediately after diabetes is diagnosed, lose extra weight by cutting down on portion sizes, and start exercising regularly, the diabetes process can be reversed.
Myth: Herbal supplements can cure type 2 diabetes
Fact: While some herbs and supplements can help stabilize blood sugar levels, there is no miracle herb that can eliminate type 2 diabetes. However, these herbs and supplements can be taken in addition to the standard medication prescribed by the doctor, to help manage the disease better.
Myth: Exercising is not safe as it can cause my blood sugar levels to drop
Fact: While strenuous physical exercise for an extended period of time can lower blood glucose levels and lead to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), this can be prevented by checking blood sugar levels before and after the workout.
However, do not let the fear of hypoglycemia put you off exercise. Regular exercise, in addition to proper meal planning, taking medications as prescribed, and stress management can help you control and maintain your blood sugar levels adequately. When you exercise, your muscles use more glucose in your blood and make the insulin in your body work better. The benefits last for hours after your workout and your blood sugar levels are lowered over time.
Myth: You can go blind or lose a limb with type 2 diabetes
Fact: Uncontrolled diabetes can cause serious damage to other organs and lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness and loss of a limb. However, the risk of developing other health complications can be greatly reduced with good control over blood glucose levels, taking the right medications on time, following a healthy diet, exercising frequently and maintaining an ideal body weight, along with regular blood, urine and eye exams.
Myth: People with diabetes are more likely to fall ill
Fact: Being diabetic does not increase your chance of developing a cold or other illness. However, any illness can make diabetes more difficult to control, and can lead to serious complications.
Myth: I should not get pregnant if I have type 2 diabetes
Fact: Women who have type 2 diabetes can have a normal pregnancy and give birth to a healthy baby if they manage their blood sugar levels well.
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Myth: If you don’t maintain your sugar levels, you’ll end up on insulin
Fact: In type 2 diabetes, blood glucose can be maintained at a healthy level with a combination of diet, exercise, and oral medications in the early stages. As the disease progresses, however, oral medications may not be as effective as they were, and insulin injections may be required to help control blood sugar levels.
Myth: I don’t need blood tests. It’s easy to tell if my blood sugar is high by watching out for the symptoms
Fact: People with diabetes become used to the symptoms of high blood sugar over time, which include increased thirst and urination, fatigue, dry mouth and blurred vision, and will not be able to guess their blood sugar levels accurately without a blood test.
Myth: Carbohydrates (carbs) are not good for diabetics
While people with diabetes need to watch out for carbs, the type of carb and the quantity of carb they eat is more important. Healthy carbs (that are low on the glycemic index GI scale) such as whole-grain bread, rolled oatmeal, dried beans, legumes, and low-starch vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and tomatoes, are better choices than carbs such as potatoes, white rice and white bread, which have a high glycemic index. You also need to keep a watch on the portion size of the carbs as too many carbs can cause higher blood sugar levels.
Myth: I should avoid starchy foods if I have diabetes
Fact: Starchy foods such as rice, bread, noodles and cereals, which contain carbohydrates, break down to form glucose, a major component of the body’s energy source. If you are diabetic, it’s better to include starchy foods that are high in fibre such as wholegrains into your meal plan to get the vitamins and minerals that your body requires, while still managing your blood sugar.
Myth: If you have diabetes you can never eat sweets and dessert
Fact: People with diabetes can eat small portions of sweets and dessert from time to time or on special occasions, when combined with a healthy meal plan and exercise. Another option is to swap a carb-heavy food in the main course for a small portion of dessert.
Myth: Bitter-tasting food will help lower blood glucose levels
Fact: Bitter-tasting food such as bitter gourd or sprouted fenugreek seeds will not help lower your blood glucose levels. The glucose level in your blood is affected by the amount of carbohydrates you consume. A good understanding of your individual carbohydrate requirements and incorporating it into your meal plan can help maintain blood glucose levels.
Myth: Since fruit is healthy and contains natural sugars, it is ok to eat as much of it as I want
Fact: Though fruits contain fiber, vitamins and minerals which are good for your health, they also contain carbohydrates and can raise blood glucose levels. Consult your doctor about the portion size, frequency, and types of fruits you should eat.
Myth: Sugar-free products are safer for diabetics
Fact: Foods with artificial sweeteners do not raise blood sugar. However, a sugar-free label on a product does not necessarily mean it is carbohydrate-free or calorie-free. Sugar-free foods replace sucrose (sugar) with sweet tasting substances like sugar alcohols (sorbitol, mannitol) which are high in carbohydrates, or sweetened with fructose or polydextrose which also contain calories and carbohydrate. The carbohydrates, fat, or calories in sugar free foods can affect blood glucose levels just as sugar-containing food would.
Myth: I don’t have to worry about foods rich in fat
Fact: Having type 2 diabetes increases your risk of heart attack and stroke, as many people with diabetes are overweight and may have high blood pressure or unhealthy blood cholesterol levels. A diet rich in trans fats and saturated fat such as deep-fried foods and high-fat dairy products can increase your cholesterol levels, and raise your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Myth: I’m on medication, so I can eat whatever I want
Fact: When the prescribed medication is taken with a healthy eating plan, your diabetes can be kept under control. However, taking medication does not mean that you can eat what you want, as often as you want. Eating oversized portions or food not recommended for diabetics can prevent your medication from doing its job.
Myth: It’s ok to eat my favorite sweets when I have hypoglycemia
Fact: An episode of hypoglycemia is not an excuse to eat your favorite sweets uncontrollably as it will cause a spike in your blood glucose levels. Instead, you should eat 15-20 g of fast-acting carbohydrates such as fruit juices, soft drinks, sugar or appropriate jellied sweets to treat hypoglycemia.