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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."

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

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70-130
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If the level is below 70 or you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.

People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

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