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Diabetes and Food: 5 Myths and Facts

By Barbara Brody
WebMD Feature

Eating well when you have diabetes can feel challenging, but the reason may not be what you think.

It's not just about temptation or willpower. The real issue may be misinformation.

You can make smart choices without giving up all your favorite foods. You just need to know the truth behind these common myths.

1. Myth: People with diabetes must follow a special diabetes diet.

Truth: There's no such thing as a standard diabetic diet. Some people with diabetes count carbs; others don't. If you're overweight, one of your main goals should be to slim down, and there are endless ways to do it.

"Many popular diet plans -- such as Weight Watchers or The Zone -- can help you lose weight. And the more you lose, the more you'll improve your blood sugar levels," says Michael Dansinger, MD, director of Tufts Medical Center’s Lifestyle Coaching Program for Diabetes and Weight Loss and the nutrition doctor for NBC's "The Biggest Loser."

Not sure which one is right for you? Your doctor or diabetes educator can help you pick.

2. Myth: "Diabetes-friendly" and "sugar-free" foods are good for you.

Truth: That box of sugar-free cereal might not be any better than the regular cereal on the shelf next to it -- though the so-called diabetic version probably costs more.

Sugar-free foods often contain plenty of calories and even carbs, so always check nutrition labels closely. You'll also want to scan ingredients lists for sweeteners such as sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol, which may upset your stomach, says Carolyn Brown, RD, a nutritionist at Foodtrainers in New York.

In general, it's best to limit all processed foods. Instead, fill up on a variety of fruits and vegetables, lean beef, poultry, fish, and low-fat dairy products.

3. Myth: People with diabetes can't eat any sweets.

Truth: Yes, you can order dessert! Of course, it's not wise to end every meal with chocolate cake or indulge in ice cream daily. But it's perfectly fine to have a small serving of sweet food in an otherwise healthy eating plan, as long as you take into account the calories and carbs you ate that day.

"You'll go crazy if you limit yourself too much," Brown says. She urges her clients to satisfy their sweet tooth with fruit on a daily basis but says it's OK to splurge a little once a week, as long as you get right back on track.

Dansinger agrees. He notes that most weight-loss plans allow for some wiggle room. "You can be strict 90% of the time," he says. "All of my patients eat some sugar and some starch. Living life to the fullest has to include some treats."

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