Diabetes is extremely common, but also very misunderstood. We separate fact from fiction.
Myth: Diabetes isn’t a serious disease.
Fact: Diabetes is always serious. In fact, it's one of the major causes of death in South Africa. If left untreated or not well managed, the high levels of blood glucose can damage the nerves and blood vessels in the body, and lead to life-threatening complications. These include heart disease, kidney disease, blindness, amputation, and erectile dysfunction. The good news is that these complications can be delayed and even prevented with medication and lifestyle changes.
Myth: Too much sugar causes diabetes.
Fact: Sugar is NOT a direct cause of diabetes. But because it's high in calories, excessive amounts may lead to weight gain. Being overweight is a risk factor for diabetes. An unhealthy diet isn’t the only factor, though. A lack of exercise and a sedentary lifestyle can also cause weight gain and up your risk for diabetes.
Myth: Only fat people get diabetes.
Fact: Even though it's a risk factor, being overweight or obese doesn't mean that you will develop diabetes. Family history, ethnicity, and age also play a role. Many overweight people never develop diabetes, and many people with the disease are of a normal weight or even underweight.
Myth: Diabetics need to follow a special diet.
Fact: Many people believe that diabetics have to follow a tasteless and boring diet. This isn't true. Diabetics benefit from the same basic guidelines of a healthy diet as non-diabetics. Meals should be based on lean protein, wholegrains, lots of fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats. Avoid saturated and trans fats, and refined sugar. There is also no need to eat special diabetic foods. These foods generally offer no special benefit and can still raise blood sugar levels. They're also very expensive and may cause side effects like diarrhoea.
Myth: If you have diabetes, you can’t eat carbs.
Fact: Carbs are not the enemy. On the contrary, they're your main source of fuel and your body needs them to function at its best. As they have the greatest effect on blood sugar levels, the type of carbohydrate you eat is important – whether you have diabetes or not. Wholegrains, fruits and vegetables are good sources of carbohydrates as they're digested slowly, which ensures steady blood sugar levels and sustained energy. Refined carbohydrates like white bread, pasta and rice should be limited as they're digested quickly and can cause a spike in blood sugar levels followed by a crash. It's also important to eat the right amount of carbs at meal times. “Most of us consume far too many carbs, which can contribute to weight gain and obesity,” says Margot McCumisky, National Manager of Diabetes South Africa. “No more than one quarter of your plate should be your total carbs per meal.”