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Type 2 diabetes: Myths vs. Reality

Karen Miller

Type 2 diabetes is one of the most common chronic illnesses in this country. More than 29 million people, or 9 percent of the U.S. population, are afflicted, according to the American Diabetes Association. Every year another 2 million people join their ranks. Yet, in spite of its prevalence, myths and misunderstandings about the disease abound.

Myth: Diabetes is not that serious a disease.

Fact: According to the preliminary data for deaths in 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed type 2 diabetes as the seventh leading cause of death in this country. And the numbers are on the rise. The age-adjusted death rates increased 3.4 percent from 2010 to 2011. In addition, diabetes is often a contributor to deaths from heart disease and stroke, which are the first and fourth, biggest killers in the U.S., respectively.

Myth: Diabetes is caused by eating too much sugar.

Fact: Lifestyle factors and genetics are the two major culprits. However, overweight and obesity are major risk factors for diabetes, and undoubtedly, eating too much sugar can pack on the pounds. Research has found a link between sugar-sweetened beverages and the incidence of diabetes. A 20-ounce bottle of soda alone contains almost 17 teaspoons of added sugar and 280 calories. The American Heart Association recommends an upper limit of 6 teaspoons or 100 calories of added sugar each day for women and 9 teaspoons or 150 calories a day for men. But research shows that 22 teaspoons is more the norm.

Myth: If you have to go on insulin, you have not done a good job in controlling your blood glucose.

Fact: Progression from oral medication to insulin is not a reflection of how well or how poorly one is monitoring blood glucose levels. Most of the time diabetes is a progressive disease. The first line of attack is oral medications. Over time, however, if the body produces less insulin, oral medications may not be enough to do the job. Taking insulin brings glucose levels more in line.

Myth: People with diabetes have to follow a special diet.

Fact: Actually a healthy diet for a person with diabetes is relatively the same for a person without the condition. There is no “diabetic diet.” A healthy eating plan consists of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, low-fat dairy products and healthy fats.

Myth: You have to lose a lot of weight for your diabetes to improve.

Fact: The good news is that a little bit goes a long way. According to the American Diabetes Association losing just 10 to 15 pounds can improve blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Myth: People with diabetes can’t eat sweets or chocolate.

Fact: Contrary to common belief, there are no more “off limits” foods for people with diabetes. Desserts and sweets can be eaten if part of a healthy eating plan. The key to sweets is small portion sizes.

Myth: Since fruit is healthy, it’s all right for people with diabetes to eat as much as they want.

Fact: Although fruit contains fiber, vitamins and minerals, it also contains carbohydrates. Fruit must be included in a person’s daily meal plan.

Myth: If you are overweight or obese, you will eventually develop type 2 diabetes.

Fact: Not necessarily. Although excessive weight is a leading risk factor for diabetes, age, ethnicity and family history play a role as well. Most overweight people never develop type 2 diabetes. Likewise, many people with diabetes are of normal weight.

Myth: I’ve never been tested, but I know I don’t have diabetes. I feel fine.

Fact: Type 2 diabetes is usually silent in the early stages and can be detected only through testing. As diabetes progresses symptoms may appear, such as excessive thirst, blurry vision and bruises that are slow to heal. The American Diabetes Association recommends that all adults aged 45 years or older be screened every three years. Those who are overweight or have one or more other risk factors should be tested regardless of age.