The real diabetic diet – 7 diabetes food myths debunked

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when we mention a diabetic diet? A no-sugar diet or one that is fat-free? Before we dive into the 7 diabetes food myths proper, perhaps one misconception to first address is that a diabetic diet need not be all bland and boring. Ms Bibi Chia, Principal Dietitian of Raffles Medical Group shares with us more.

Myth #1: Sweets and chocolates are a big “no-no” for diabetes patients

We are not going to lie but binging on sugary treats can cause your sugar levels to spike. However, there is no need to cut them out of your diet completely. Remember, moderation is key! It is okay to have occasional small servings of sweet treats but do make sure to have them as part of a healthy meal plan, along with regular exercise and blood glucose monitoring.

Ms Bibi: As a diabetic, you can still enjoy small amounts of sweets, chocolates and even desserts every now and then.

Myth #2: Fruits are sweet and contain sugar, people with diabetes should avoid them

Although fruits contain natural sugars, they mostly have a low to medium glycaemic index (GI). This means that they typically do not cause your blood sugar levels to rise as quickly as other carbohydrate-containing foods like white rice or white bread. You should also opt for fresh whole fruits instead of dried or canned ones which tend to contain added sugar. Fresh whole fruits are preferred over fruit juices as well.

Ms Bibi: Fruits come with fibre and are loaded with vitamins which are essential for a healthy diet. Just keep the portion to a handful or two serves a day. Don’t avoid 100 per cent fruit juice but you do need to make sure you limit to 120ml. It’s easy to down too much juice. Juices are high in calories and carbohydrates. They may cause your blood sugar levels to spike as they’re more easily digested.

Myth #3: Alcohol should be avoided completely in diabetes patients

Alcohol can interfere with your blood sugar levels and is high in calories (obesity is a risk factor for diabetes). Be sure to watch out how much you are drinking!

Ms Bibi: For diabetics with good control of their glucose levels, drinking in moderation is fine. That means two standard drinks for the men and one for the ladies per day.

Myth #4: You should avoid coffee and tea if you have diabetes

You might have heard that drinking coffee or tea can increase your sugar intake. Well, that is because of the sugar, milk or creamer that are commonly added to these caffeinated drinks. Without the added sugars, these drinks can in fact, decrease your risk for diabetes! There are many other health benefits of coffee and tea, such as protection against Alzheimer’s disease and liver diseases which you can read more about here.

Ms Bibi: Studies have showed that compounds in coffee may aid in the body’s metabolism of sugar to help prevent diabetes. Drinking black, green or oolong tea without milk can significantly improve insulin activity. The effects don’t last so drink a cup every few hours to maintain the benefit. And go light on the sugar!

Myth #5: Steer clear of frozen and canned food

You should definitely be avoiding the processed ones with added salt and sugar. However, not all frozen and canned foods are bad. Read the labels and be careful to choose the right ones.

Ms Bibi: Fresh produce is not the only food you can take. Frozen and canned food without added sugars and sodium may contain more nutrients than fresh produce that may have travelled further and longer to reach you. So don’t rule them out.

Myth #6: People with diabetes should avoid carbs like rice, bread and pasta

Carbohydrates are an important energy source for the body and when it comes to carbs, we should be mindful of the type and quantity we are consuming.

Ms Bibi: Go ahead and dig in! However, control your portion size and choose healthier alternatives such as wholemeal and whole grain options as they come with fibre. Other than a lower effect on your blood sugar levels, whole grains move slower through your digestive tract, allowing you to feel fuller longer.

Myth #7: You should avoid fatty foods completely if you have diabetes

Everyone should have a well-balanced diet and this is no exception for people with diabetes. Choose the “good fats” i.e. unsaturated fats which can be found in food such as nuts, avocados, oily fish and oils like sunflower and olive oil.

Ms Bibi: We all need a small amount of fats in our diet. That said, limit your intake of saturated and trans fats to lower your cardiovascular health risks.

Make the right dietary choice today!

One of the first steps to managing diabetes is making the right dietary choices to manage your blood sugar levels. As what Ms Bibi suggests, “A healthy all-rounded diet that is low in refined carbohydrates is probably the best diet for a diabetic patient. So go ahead and indulge (in small quantities, every now and then)! Aim for a healthy weight and make sure you work with your doctor to monitor your condition closely.”

Do also remember to speak to your doctor before making any dietary changes as your medication dosage may need to be adjusted accordingly. If you would like to learn more about diabetes including the risk factors, symptoms and prevention tips, you may read our article here.

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