Top 13 Diabetes Food Myths

Are potatoes off-limits for people with diabetes? Do fruits and veggies automatically raise blood glucose? Is sherbet a better choice than ice cream? Our experts give you the true and false behind some widely held myths on what foods are good choices for people with diabetes.

Sweets or No Sweets?

Is the following statement true or false?

People with diabetes can enjoy sweets and sugary foods on occasion.

It's true.

People with diabetes can enjoy sweets and sugary foods on occasion.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) says sources of sugar can be consumed by people with diabetes as part of their total daily carbohydrate count. This statement, first published in 1994, was a dramatic change from the old-school recommendation that guided people with diabetes to avoid sugar. The recommendation changed due to research suggesting that sucrose and other sugars in foods do not have a greater impact on blood glucose levels than other sources of carbohydrate when eaten separately or as part of a meal or snack.

The current ADA guidelines suggest that you should be most concerned about the total amount of carbohydrate you consume instead of the sources. You also need to be concerned about eating similar amounts of carbohydrate from meal to meal, unless you take insulin several times a day and adjust your doses based on the amount of carbohydrate you eat.

For people who need to lose weight and for those interested in eating healthfully, the ADA recommends you eat only small amounts of foods containing added sugar because these foods are likely high in calories and possibly fat. If you prefer to eliminate added sugars for either health or blood glucose control reasons, that’s your decision.

Is Fruit Juice Off-Limits?

Is the following statement true or false?

People with diabetes shouldn't drink fruit juice.

It's false.

People with diabetes can drink fruit juice.

People with diabetes can fit fruit juice into their meal plans; however, be aware that whole fruits are more nutritious than juice because of the fiber whole fruits contain. Juice tends to spike blood sugar more quickly because a liquid is digested more quickly than a solid; when digestion is faster, you will get a faster rise in blood sugar.

No matter what you're drinking, make sure you use the appropriate portion size. For example, a small McDonald's orange juice is 12 ounces, but the recommended serving for a person with diabetes is 4 ounces. Drink the whole McDonald's glass of orange juice and you'll have triple the actual recommended serving!

Even 100 percent fruit juices are incredibly concentrated and high in calories and sugar -- up to 120 calories and 29 grams of carbohydrate in 8 ounces. That's two fruit servings (with no fiber), which is going to bump up your blood sugar.

You can accommodate juice; just limit it to 4 ounces. You can also try diluting juice with water to enjoy a less-concentrated fruit drink.

Zonya Foco, R.D., is the author of Lickety-Split Diabetic Meals (American Diabetes Association, 2008).

Drinking Alcohol with Diabetes

Is the following statement true or false?

People with diabetes can't drink alcohol.

It's false.

People with diabetes can drink alcohol in moderation.

The same guidelines for alcohol that apply to the general public also apply to most people with diabetes: If you want to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. However, if you take medications and have other medical issues that might interact negatively with alcohol, check with your health care provider as a precaution.

Moderation is defined by the U.S. Government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans and other organizations as no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women. One drink is defined as:

-- 12 ounces of beer

-- 5 ounces of wine

-- 1.5 ounces of hard liquor (distilled spirits)

Alcohol has 7 calories per gram. Some alcoholic beverages, including wine, contain a small amount of carbohydrate. All types of alcohol have been shown to have some heart-health benefits: raising HDL (good) cholesterol and improving insulin resistance.

The biggest concern about alcohol intake is low blood sugar several hours after drinking if you take one or more blood glucose-lowering medications that can cause low blood sugar. If you don't take a blood glucose-lowering medication that can cause low blood sugar, then hypoglycemia should not be a concern. To prevent hypoglycemia when you drink alcohol, consume some food along with it, because alcohol lowers blood glucose levels less if you eat at the same time.

People who should not drink alcohol at all include:

-- pregnant women

-- people with medical problems such as:

- high levels of triglycerides

- advanced diabetes nerve problems

- pancreatitis (an inflammation of the pancreas)

- current or past alcohol addiction

Jeannette Jordan, M.S., R.D., CDE, works for the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston and consults with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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Fresh or Frozen?

Is the following statement true or false?

Fresh produce is always better than frozen.

It's false.

Fresh produce is not necessarily better than frozen.

Sometimes frozen fruits and vegetables (without added sugar or sodium from sauces or seasonings) actually have more nutrients than fresh products. It depends on where you buy the food and how far it has traveled since harvest. If you purchase produce from a local farmer, fresh may provide more nutrients as long as you prepare and eat the food quickly. If produce in your grocery store came from Latin America and took a week to get to get there, frozen is likely better. No matter the way food is processed or stored, it will lose nutrients -- vitamins and minerals -- over time. The carbohydrate and fat content remain basically the same.

And don't rule out canned produce, as long as you choose reduced-sodium options.

Nora Saul, M.S., R.D., is a certified diabetes educator at the Joslin Diabetes Center.

Aspartame and Alzheimer's

Is the following statement true or false?

Aspartame, an artificial sweetener, causes Alzheimer's disease.

It's false.

Aspartame has not been shown to cause Alzheimer's disease.

Negative allegations that associate aspartame with dementia are not based on science. Leading diabetes authorities -- such as the American Diabetes Association, the American Dietetic Association, and the American Medical Association -- agree that aspartame is safe for people of all ages, including people with diabetes.

The body breaks down aspartame into the amino acids aspartic acid and phenylalanine, as well as a small amount of methanol. These components are found naturally in foods such as meats, milk, fruits, and vegetables, and in higher amounts than what you'd consume by using aspartame. Your body uses these components in exactly the same way, whether they come from common foods or aspartame. Aspartame, along with other sugar substitutes, offers people with diabetes greater variety and flexibility in food choices and helps them satisfy sweet cravings.

Jeannette Jordan, M.S., R.D., CDE, works for the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston and consults with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Does Cinnamon Lower Blood Sugar?

Is the following statement true or false?

Cinnamon lowers blood sugar.

Maybe!

It's a possibility that cinnamon lowers blood sugar.

Regular ground cinnamon and cinnamon sticks were used in studies to test whether cinnamon lowers blood sugar. In the studies, the suggested intake amount to experience a decrease in blood sugar was 1/2 teaspoon per day. However, the research on cinnamon is not conclusive, and the use of cinnamon has not become part of common clinical practice. More research is needed before conclusions can be made about cinnamon's role in treating diabetes.

Madhu Gadia, M.S., R.D., is a certified diabetes educator.

Fatty Foods and Blood Glucose

Is the following statement true or false?

The fat in foods doesn't raise blood glucose.

It's true.

Fat does not have a direct impact on blood glucose.

Fat from foods doesn't directly raise blood glucose. A large amount of fat at a meal can delay stomach emptying. This can slow the rise of blood glucose. When eating a lower-fat meal, you might see the peak rise in blood glucose 1 to 2 hours after; when eating a high-fat meal, you might see the peak in blood glucose 3 to 4 hours after.

Our bodies actually need a small amount of fat to help with absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and to operate properly. In general, though, people with diabetes should monitor fat intake because of the cardiovascular effect: The more saturated and trans fats you eat, the more you are at risk of a cardiovascular event or heart disease.

Different fats have different effects on your cholesterol, weight, and overall health, and the healthful fats -- monounsaturated and polyunsaturated -- are actually an important part of our diet. Monounsaturated fats are found in olive oil, canola oil, some nuts, and avocados. Polyunsaturated fats are found in the healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in fish, olive oil, flaxseed, and walnuts. Ideally, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats should replace the "bad" fats -- saturated and trans fats.

Saturated and trans fats raise your bad cholesterol, or LDL, and lower your good cholesterol, or HDL. They are found in foods that come from animals -- lard, butter, cheese, meat, and poultry. They are also in the oils of tropical plants such as coconut and palm. Our daily caloric intake should contain less than 10 percent saturated fat.

Trans fats are put into processed foods to improve their shelf life and include partially hydrogenated oils. Today, you see labels marketing "no trans fats." The closer to zero trans fats you consume, the better off you are.

Susan Yesavage, R.D., LDN, is a certified diabetes educator with the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

Do Eggs Raise Cholesterol?

Is the following statement true or false?

Eggs automatically raise your cholesterol.

It's false.

Eggs don't automatically raise cholesterol.

People with diabetes can safely eat a few eggs a week. Aim for no more than one egg a day, and no more than four eggs per week.

Prepare eggs healthfully: The best way to cook is to scramble eggs in a nonstick pan, using a healthy liquid oil or oil spray, or poach them in water. A fried egg, especially one fried in butter, will contain some saturated fat. Consider instead frying an egg with a bit of vegetable oil. There's very little saturated fat in an egg itself.

And consider how eggs fit with your other food choices. Recommendations advise eating fewer than 200 milligrams of dietary cholesterol a day. If you're a meat eater, you're getting more cholesterol that way, so eggs add to your cholesterol intake. You have to consider eggs as another "meat," in terms of cholesterol.

The cholesterol is contained in the egg yolk, so you can eliminate cholesterol by eating just the egg white. Scramble the egg white or make an egg white omelet with vegetables. Also, you can safely use egg substitutes in baking recipes or to make an omelet.

Mayonnaise, which is made with the egg yolk, is another source of cholesterol. If you like to prepare your sandwiches or salads with mayonnaise, look for reduced-fat varieties or try other low-fat options such as mustard.

As always, remember to practice portion control and eat a balanced diet.

Susan Yesavage, R.D., LDN, is a certified diabetes educator with the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

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Potatoes and Diabetes

Is the following statement true or false?

People with diabetes should not eat potatoes.

It's false.

People with diabetes can enjoy potatoes.

People with diabetes don't have to give up potatoes; just balance them as part of a meal. When potatoes (a starchy vegetable) are part of a meal, try to balance the plate by including nonstarchy vegetables such as a lettuce salad, green beans, or broccoli.

Potatoes are rich in nutrients -- for example, they're higher in potassium than bananas -- and they also provide dietary fiber and are good sources of vitamin C.

When eating potatoes, remember portion size and be honest about quantity. One serving of potatoes is roughly the size of your fist, or about 1/2 cup. Baked and boiled potatoes are the healthiest choices. Instead of opting for potato chips or mashed potatoes loaded with butter and sour cream, try salsa, spicy mustard, or Greek yogurt to boost flavor.

To make oven-fried potatoes: Cut 4 medium potatoes or sweet potatoes lengthwise into wedges. Drizzle the wedges with one tablespoon olive oil or canola oil. Bake wedges in an even layer on a baking sheet at 375 degrees F for 50 minutes. Makes 4 servings. Per serving: 164 calories, 3.5 g total fat (0 g saturated fat), 0 mg cholesterol, 8 mg sodium, 31 g carb (1 g sugars, 2 g fiber), 4 g protein.

Zonya Foco, R.D., is author of Lickety-Split Diabetic Meals (American Diabetes Association, 2008).

Does Fruit Raise Blood Glucose?

Is the following statement true or false?

People with diabetes should not eat fruit because it raises blood glucose.

It's false.

People with diabetes should eat fruit.

While it's true that any food that contains carbohydrate (including fruit) will raise blood sugar, it doesn't mean you should eliminate healthy sources of carbohydrate from your diet. One way to help keep your blood glucose under control is to make sure your portions of carbohydrate-containing foods aren't too large. When choosing fruit, opt for fresh fruit, frozen fruit with no added sugar, or canned fruit in light syrup or 100 percent fruit juice.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that everyone, including people with diabetes, eat about 2 cups of fruit per day. Fruits and vegetables, whether fresh, frozen, or canned, are excellent sources of much-needed vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. In fact, most people don't eat enough fruits and vegetables, which provide essential nutrients such as vitamins A and C, potassium, and magnesium. Another plus: Fruits and vegetables are relatively low in calories.

- One serving of fruit (one small piece or half of a large piece) has 15 grams carb and 60 calories.

- One serving of nonstarchy vegetables (1/2 cup cooked) has 5 grams carb and 25 calories.

- One serving of starchy vegetables (1/2 cup cooked) contains 15 grams carb and 80 calories

Madhu Gadia, M.S., R.D., is a certified diabetes educator.

Eating Pasta with Diabetes

Is the following statement true or false?

People with diabetes can eat pasta.

It's true.

People with diabetes can eat pasta.

Some pastas are healthier than others. Whole grain pasta may cause less effect on your blood glucose due to its fiber content. It also provides more nutrients than refined pasta.

Whole grain pasta includes the entire grain and its health benefits. Refined pastas remove the bran and the germ and, along with them, many of the health benefits. Whole grains move through the digestive tract slower than refined and keep you feeling full longer.

When purchasing a whole grain food, check the label carefully: The first ingredient should be a whole grain, such as whole wheat or whole semolina.

Zonya Foco, R.D, is author of Lickety-Split Diabetic Meals (American Diabetes Association, 2008).

Is Sherbet Better for You?

Is the following statement true or false?

Sherbet is a healthier choice than ice cream or frozen yogurt.

It's false.

Sherbet is not necessarily better than ice cream or frozen yogurt.

Frozen yogurt and ice cream are both dairy products, so they have bone-building calcium as well as protein, although they can also contain a lot of sugar and fat. Sherbet can be deceptive because the perception is that it's made from fruit, so many consumers believe they are making a healthy choice. But sherbet is basically sugar -- there's very little of anything else in it.

Your best choices for frozen treats are frozen yogurt, no-sugar-added ice cream, or light ice cream, which tend to be lower in carbohydrate and fat.

Nora Saul, M.S., R.D., is a certified diabetes educator at the Joslin Diabetes Center.

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Corn Syrup and Diabetes

Is the following statement true or false?

High-fructose corn syrup causes diabetes

It's false.

High-fructose corn syrup does not cause diabetes.

Consuming high-fructose corn syrup is not the sole factor in the development of type 2 diabetes. (High-fructose corn syrup has a carbohydrate profile similar to that of white table sugar -- about 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose.) However, it is used to sweeten many prepared and commercial foods and regular sweetened beverages. Consuming too many foods with high-fructose corn syrup as well as other calorie-containing ingredients increases your calorie consumption and will likely cause weight gain. It is excess weight along with your family history and other risk factors that can cause prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.

To limit the amount of high-fructose corn syrup you consume, check the ingredients to see whether a food contains it. Also check to see how far down on the ingredient list it is. Ingredients are listed in descending order by quantity used (by weight). High-fructose corn syrup is often used as a sweetener in:

-- regular soda

-- candy

-- frozen treats

-- pancake syrup (that is not pure maple syrup)

-- sweetened cereals

-- ruit-flavor yogurt

-- pasta sauces

-- ketchup

Jeannette Jordan, M.S., R.D., CDE, works for the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston and consults with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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