Debunking the Myths Behind the Diabetic Diet
Picking the right foods to eat to stay healthy can be challenging for many individuals and when you have diabetes, choosing the right foods are even more critical to help keep your blood sugar stable.
November is National Diabetes Awareness Month and we recently sat down with Kim Kramer, Certified Diabetes Educator, to discuss the truths and myths of the Diabetic Diet.
FLIK Hospitality: Tell us about your experience with diabetes and educating people on following a diabetic diet.
Kim: I’ve been a dietitian for 13 years and a Certified Diabetes Educator for the last 3 years. I spent the beginning of my career working as an impatient dietitian in the hospital and moved over to the outpatient side over 10 years ago which is truly my passion. About five years ago, my career path changed, and I was primarily seeing patients in a diabetes management clinic. Now I work for the University of Chicago in Orland Park as their outpatient dietitian in the endocrinology department.
FLIK: What, if any, “myths” do you commonly hear when it comes to following a diabetic diet?
K: “I can’t have any starchy foods,” or, “I can’t have fruit.”
I can’t say it enough – yes you can. So many people [with diabetes] are under the impression that they aren’t allowed to eat any of that. I once had a woman who hadn’t eaten an orange in years as she was told she could not have them anymore because she had diabetes. This is a big issue, especially when patients first get diagnosed. There’s a lot of confusion around the diabetic diet and people are often so relieved after their first visit with me.
Another myth is “Sugar free foods are good for me.”
People just think, “Oh, I can have sugar free foods because I’m diabetic.” There are two issues with that. One, there are still carbohydrates, in sugar free foods even though they do not contain sugar. People don’t realize sugar free doesn’t mean carb free. The other problem is sugar alcohols. There’s often massive amounts of sugar alcohols in “sugar free” foods, which can cause gastrointestinal distress.
FLIK: What is the gold standard for the diabetic diet?
K: Carb counting is definitely what’s used on a regular basis. People can look at labels and see how many carbs are in their food and patients are very receptive to that. They come to me and they have no idea how many carbohydrates they are supposed to be eating – or if they can eat carbohydrates at all! We talk about carb counting and give them the knowledge. It’s empowering. They walk away feeling very relieved.
FLIK: Are there any other diabetic diet myths you hear often?
K: This probably comes as no surprise, but as a dietitian, I can’t say enough how much moderation is key. You are allowed to have fruit. But, you know, should you eat half a watermelon in one sitting? No. It all goes back to portion control.
FLIK: Is there evidence that low carb diets or extremely low carb diets – like the ketogenic diet – are effective for managing diabetes?
K: There are some small studies that talk about this, but pretty much as far as the ketogenic diet or any other low carb diet goes – it’s a diet. It’s not meant to stand for long periods of time. When people “go on a diet,” they eventually go off the diet, which is why we promote carb counting and a healthy meal plan – something that is sustainable.
FLIK: Are artificial sweeteners okay or should we ditch them.
K: There’s a lot of research out there. Artificial sweeteners are safe in moderation. It takes a large consumption of artificial sweeteners to have a negative effect on health. I try not to sway patients either way. If they want to avoid artificial sweeteners, then they don’t have to use them. But, if patients want to have a diet soda or diet lemonade, then that’s perfectly fine and preferred for better blood glucose control.
Keep in mind too – artificial sweeteners won’t raise your blood sugar, but sugar alcohols can. The line between artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols can be blurry because they are both referred to as “sugar substitutes.”