Diabetes and Sugar (and Other Type 2 Diabetes Diet Myths)

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A pile of sugar cubes.

Myth No. 1: Diabetes and Sugar Don’t Mix

It’s a common myth that people with Type 2 Diabetes can’t eat any sugar. Although sugar has little nutritional value and can be a source of empty calories and carbohydrates, all foods—including sugar—can be consumed in appropriate portions. Sugar and desserts are tolerated best if the portion is small and if they are eaten as part of a meal or along with foods that contain some protein. Curbing your portions of sweets can be hard, so it’s usually best to reserve the straight stuff for special occasions. If you don’t trust yourself to be able to have a smaller portion of sugary foods, then curb your cravings by keeping your pantry well-stocked with your favorite sugar alternatives and low-carbohydrate snacks.

Diabetic Sugar Replacements

Diabetic Sweets

Myth No. 2: “Sugar-Free” Means the Same Thing as “Free Food”

The term sugar-free can be used if a food has less than 0.5 grams of sugar per serving, but sugar-free foods may contain other carbohydrates that can add calories and affect blood sugar. So make sure that you read the food label to see how many total carbohydrates and calories are in each serving. Also, note if the food contains alternative sweeteners. While alternative low and no-calorie sweeteners can be very useful in making foods more diabetic-friendly, not everyone tolerates all types of alternative sweeteners. Especially note if there is an ingredient that ends in “-tol,” like lactitol or sorbitol. These are sugar alcohols that may have a laxative effect.

Myth No. 3: Diabetic Meals Should be Very Low-Carbohydrate

While lower carbohydrate intakes are associated with lower blood sugar levels, a moderate carbohydrate intake is recommended for long-term Type 2 Diabetes management. Approximately 50% of your calories should come from carbohydrates. While the target amount of carbohydrates will depend on your prescribed calorie intake, for most people 45-60 grams of carbohydrate per meal is the right amount. Cutting carbs lower than this can mess up your overall diet quality, often leading to lower fiber and higher fat intakes.

Meal Plan

Myth No. 4: With Diabetes, You Have to Eat Differently from Family and Friends

While some foods are obviously healthier than others, a diabetic meal plan can be extremely inclusive. Diabetics don’t need “special” foods. As long as you portion your foods appropriately, you should be able to eat the same foods as everyone else. Beyond the carb-counting, a diabetic meal plan is nothing more than a general healthy, portion-controlled and well-balanced diet. So don’t cancel your lunch dates or stress about what you’ll eat at your next get-together — just educate yourself on nutrition and watch your portions.

Myth No. 5: Diabetics Require Snacks

Historically, diabetic meal plans always included a bedtime snack, but current research suggests that a bedtime snack is not necessary for all Type 2 diabetics. Type 2 diabetics who take insulin, sulfonylureas, or who are prone to hypoglycemia may benefit from having snacks built into their meal plan. For some diabetics, snacks can help prevent blood glucose peaks and valleys, as well as overeating at mealtime caused by excessive hunger. But snacking opens the door to another opportunity to overeat, and for Type 2 diabetics who may already be struggling with weight control, this is a big concern. So remember this if you snack: a good snack consists of 15-30 grams of carbohydrates, 100-200 calories, should be built into your meal plan, and should be nutritionally balanced with fat, protein and carbohydrates, just like meals. Ask your doctor or dietitian if snacks are a good idea for you.

Diabetic Snacks

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