Although an estimated 29 million Americans have diabetes, it is not well understood. Confusing and inaccurate information about the disease is common. Some of the misunderstanding comes from archaic information that has been disproven. Other misinformation arises from folklore that never did have scientific backing.

Although an estimated 29 million Americans have diabetes, it is not well understood. Confusing and inaccurate information about the disease is common. Some of the misunderstanding comes from archaic information that has been disproven. Other misinformation arises from folklore that never did have scientific backing.

Following are eight common myths about diabetes and some truth to debunk them.

Myth #1: Diabetes is not that serious.

Truth: Uncontrolled diabetes, either Type 1 or Type 2, can be deadly. Diabetes is the seventh-leading cause of death in America. Having diabetes nearly doubles the risk of heart attack. Diabetes is a major cause of disability. Complications of diabetes include kidney disease, vision loss, neuropathy, amputations, heart attack and stroke.

Myth #2: Eating too much sugar causes diabetes.

Truth: Not exactly. Type 1 diabetes, which occurs when the pancreas stops making insulin, is caused by genetics and unknown factors. Type 2 diabetes, which occurs when the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin or the body no longer uses the insulin properly, is caused by genetics and lifestyle factors. Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90 percent to 95 percent of all diabetes in America. It usually occurs in people who are older than 40, are overweight and have a family history of diabetes. Being overweight does increase your risk for diabetes, and eating too much sugar can make you overweight. But, sugar alone does not cause diabetes.

Myth #3: People with diabetes need to eat special diabetic foods.

Truth: A healthy meal plan for people with diabetes is generally the same as a healthy diet for anyone —low in saturated fat and moderate in salt and sugar, with meals based on lean proteins, non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and fruit. Even sweets are OK in limited portions. Diabetic foods generally offer no special benefit. 

Myth #4: If you are overweight, you likely will become diabetic.

Truth: Being overweight is a risk factor, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee that you will become diabetic. Your weight is just one risk factor. Having a family history of diabetes, having high blood pressure or being sedentary are a few of the other risk factors associated with diabetes.

Myth #5: You can tell if your blood sugar is high or low by how you feel, so you don’t need to check your blood sugar regularly.

Truth: You can’t rely on how you are feeling when it comes to blood sugar levels. You may feel lightheaded and dizzy because your blood sugar is low — or because you are coming down with a cold. The longer you have diabetes, the less accurate those feelings become. The only way to know for sure is to check your blood sugar.

Myth #6: I don’t have any symptoms, so I must not be diabetic.

Truth: Type 2 diabetes frequently develops slowly and without any recognizable symptoms. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are 8 million Americans who have diabetes but aren’t aware of it. Symptoms, which can be mild and vague, are often attributed to aging. 

Myth #7: Pre-diabetes is nothing to worry about.

Truth: If you have been told you are pre-diabetic, borderline diabetic or that your sugars need to be watched, you are at a very high risk of developing full-blown diabetes. Pre-diabetic means that your pancreas probably still is producing enough insulin, but your cells have become resistant. Glucose can’t move from the blood into the cells. Over time, the pancreas just can’t keep up. The good news is that you can cut your risk of developing diabetes. One major clinical research study, cited by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, found that people with pre-diabetes who lost a modest amount of weight through diet and regular exercise reduced their risk for developing diabetes by 58 percent.

Myth #8: It is not safe to exercise if you have diabetes.

Truth: Long-term studies show that regular exercise has a positive impact on lowering blood sugars. Exercise helps burn glucose and makes cells more sensitive to insulin. Cells are better able to take up glucose during and after exercise. You need to find the right balance between exercise, your medications and diet.

Each person’s diabetes is a little different. What sends Aunt Bessie’s blood sugar sky high may not do the same with yours. If you have diabetes, seek individualized diet advice from a registered dietitian or certified diabetes educator, not from your neighbor who has diabetes. Follow up with your doctor on a regular basis. 

Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the Cardiopulmonary Rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.