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Fact-check: It’s time to rethink diabetes myths

Published on Tue 11 Jul 2023 at 11:04

Dr Maulik Patel, First Check member and consultant physician from Gujarat, India, helps debunk 5 myths associated with diabetes.

By Aliya Zainab

Diabetes is a complex and chronic health condition. Often, comprehending the factors that contribute to or regulate blood sugar levels can be challenging. Therefore, misinformation about diabetes tends to proliferate. 

Dr Maulik Patel, First Check member and consultant physician from Gujarat, India, sheds light on some important facts related to diabetes, while debunking common myths.

Myth 1: Diabetes is caused by eating too much sweet food.

Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs either when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. “According to the American Diabetes Association, individuals with diabetes can enjoy sweets, chocolates, or sugary foods, as long as they are incorporated into a balanced meal plan and accompanied by exercise,” informs Dr Maulik. 

However, it is crucial for people with diabetes to understand how different foods can affect their blood glucose levels. Reading nutrition labels on food packages can be helpful. Although foods labelled as ‘sugar-free’ or with ‘no added sugar’ may still contain calories and carbohydrates that can influence blood sugar levels, warns the physician. 


Myth 2: People with diabetes shouldn’t eat fruits.

Individuals with diabetes can eat all fruits, unless they have a specific fruit allergy. “Fruit is a nutritious choice that can satisfy hunger and fulfill daily dietary requirements. However, it’s important to note that most fruits contain sugar. Therefore, individuals with diabetes need to be mindful of their fruit consumption,” says Dr Maulik. 

When selecting fruits, certain factors should be considered. Opting for fresh fruit, unsweetened frozen fruit, or canned fruit without added sugar are good choices. “Since fruit contains carbohydrates, it should be included in one’s meal plan and accounted for accordingly,” notes the doctor.


Myth 3: Insulin cures diabetes.

Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, helps sugar enter the body’s cells. However, in type 2 diabetes, the body’s response to insulin is impaired, leading to decreased insulin production over time.

“Managing blood sugar in type 2 diabetes typically involves healthy eating, physical activity, and medication. For some individuals, insulin may be necessary alongside other treatments,” says Dr Maulik. 

In type 1 diabetes insulin treatment is one component of the treatment plan. “Insulin treatment replaces or supplements the body’s own insulin with the goal of achieving normal or near-normal blood sugar levels and preventing or minimising complications,” he adds.


Myth 4: People with diabetes must avoid carbs.

Carbohydrates, found in vegetables, fruits, dairy and other foods, are the primary source of energy in our diet and have a direct impact on blood sugar levels. “Consuming a controlled amount of carbohydrates per meal can help manage blood sugar levels, especially when taking specific oral medications or long-acting insulin,” informs Dr Maulik. 

A diabetes-friendly diet includes carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and low-fat milk, while avoiding sugary beverages, including fruit juices. Individuals with diabetes are advised to monitor their carbohydrate intake in order to regulate blood sugar levels and make necessary adjustments to insulin dosage.

Myth 5: Only older adults develop diabetes.

“Global data shows a significant rise in the incidence rate of type 2 diabetes among adolescents and young adults (aged 15 to 39 years) from 117 to 183 per 100,000 population between 1990 and 2019,” says Dr Maulik. The escalating rates of childhood obesity are a major contributing factor, leading to concerns about a continued substantial increase in the prevalence of diabetes.

Insulin resistance and, in particular, impaired insulin secretion in type 2 diabetes have a substantial genetic component. However, Dr Maulik maintains that they can also be influenced, both positively and negatively, by behavioural factors, such as physical activity, diet, smoking, alcohol consumption, body weight, and sleep duration. Improving these lifestyle factors can reduce the risk of diabetes.