Five myths about diabetes
Posted on 15 June 2016
Type 2 diabetes is one of the modern world’s fastest-growing diseases. But as it spreads, so too do the myths around it. Tracy Ugarchund, a dietician at Mediclinic Constantiaberg, sets the record straight.
MYTH 1: DIABETES IS CAUSED BY BEING OVERWEIGHT
Not so as it relates to type 1 diabetes, which is caused by genetics. With type 2 diabetes (which we’ll focus on in this article), it’s closer to the truth – but it’s not as simple as that.
Type 2 diabetes is caused by a combination of factors, including genetics and lifestyle, and excess weight is certainly a risk factor. However, other risk factors – like family history, ethnicity and age – also play a role.
‘Your genetics make you a loaded gun,’ explains Tracy. ‘So if you have someone in your family who has diabetes, then you’re more likely to have it. But it’s your lifestyle that pulls the trigger.’
Tracy says that even though weight and genetics play a role in the risk factors, the causes are wide-ranging. ‘I have lots of patients who walk into my rooms who aren’t overweight or obese, but who are eating unhealthily,’ says Tracy. The reality is that many overweight people may never develop type 2 diabetes, while those in the ‘normal’ weight range may develop diabetes due to other risk factors.
MYTH 2: EATING SUGAR CAUSES DIABETES
Diabetes develops when something disrupts your body’s ability to turn the food you eat into energy. So while excessive amounts of sugar could lead to type 2 diabetes, a diet that’s high in calories from any source will also contribute to weight gain (and, possibly, type 2 diabetes).
Research has shown that drinking sugary drinks is linked to type 2 diabetes. One thing’s for certain: sugar-laden beverages are best avoided. There’s a good reason why the South African government is introducing a sugar tax on soft drinks.
MYTH 3: IF YOU HAVE DIABETES, YOUR BODY ISN’T PRODUCING ENOUGH INSULIN.
This depends on the type of diabetes. ‘If it’s type 1, then you don’t have enough insulin,’ Tracy explains. ‘But with type 2 it could either be that you don’t have enough insulin, or you have less than you should, or you have enough but it’s not efficient. It could be any one of the three.’
Most people with type 2 diabetes have enough insulin when they’re first diagnosed – it’s just that the insulin isn’t doing its job. In this case, your body’s insulin is not causing your cells to absorb glucose from your food. If this continues, your pancreas may eventually give up and stop producing enough insulin.
‘As time goes on, your pancreatic capacity to produce insulin does decrease,’ Tracy says. At this stage you’ll go from being prediabetic to being type 2 diabetic and will need to take regular insulin injections.
MYTH 4: DIABETICS CAN’T EAT CHOCOLATE
Again, we come back to the healthy eating plan. ‘Anything can be eaten in reasonable, limited quantities,’ says Tracy. ‘When it comes to chocolate, there are better options for diabetics, like dark chocolate.’
Bottom line: if you’re following a healthy and balanced diet, exercising regularly, and watching your insulin intake, then diabetics can eat chocolate – in moderation.
MYTH 5: DIABETIC DIETS ARE TOO STRICT
If you’re diabetic, you’ll need to plan your meals – but that’s true for anybody who’s following a healthy lifestyle.
Type 2 diabetics should follow a diet that’s low in saturated and trans fats, moderate in salt and sugar, and high in lean protein, non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and fruit.