According to the American Diabetes Association, 25 percent of Americans over 60 years old have diabetes. What many people don’t realize is that diabetes is not just a blood sugar problem. It’s a disease that affects longevity, increasing the risk of heart disease; it can cause eye damage, increasing the risk of blindness, cataracts and glaucoma; it can cause nerve damage, and estimates indicate nearly half of those with diabetes have some type of neuropathy. Seniors with diabetes can be more prone to depression and cognitive problems, and arthritis can become a serious issue. However, with diligent care, diabetes can be managed.
Myths proliferate about what is and isn’t effective when it comes to diabetes management, but here are some facts:
Myth No. 1: Being diabetic, I can’t eat any sugar.
Fact: Anyone with diabetes must focus on the amount of sugar in his or her diet. With Type 1 diabetes, the body doesn’t make enough insulin. With Type 2 diabetes, the body doesn’t respond to insulin. Without insulin, or having resistance to it, the body isn’t able to clear glucose from the bloodstream and deliver it to our cells. As a result, blood glucose levels rise, cells are starved for energy, and weakness and fatigue result. While carbohydrates impact blood sugar, they’re still essential to overall health, so monitor total carbohydrate content but choose quality options such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains and yogurt.
Myth No. 2: Drinking alcohol will raise my blood sugar, so it’s off limits.
Fact: The body metabolizes alcohol more like fat and less like a carbohydrate, so alcohol lowers blood sugar. If you’re going to an event where alcohol is involved, have a drink with food so you won’t risk hypoglycemia. Of course, if you’re trying to lose weight, it’s best to avoid alcohol, since it’s packed with calories.
Myth No. 3: If I develop diabetes, I’ll also suffer from osteoarthritis.
Fact: Diabetes doesn’t cause osteoarthritis, but diabetes may be accompanied by joint issues, and a sedentary lifestyle and being overweight can contribute to both diagnoses. Diabetes and osteoarthritis share two risk factors: age and weight. While you can’t change your age, losing weight and staying active can help lessen the symptoms of both diseases.
Myth No. 4: I must follow a special diabetic diet and avoid certain foods.
Fact: There’s really no such thing as a “diabetic diet.” A dietary plan that a diabetic can live with should be carbohydrate controlled, but also should be developed around your age, weight, activity level, culinary capabilities, medications and medical history. Everyone is different. Avoiding specific foods can just make things more complicated. “White foods” are a great example. Everyone associates these with processed foods, but cauliflower, quinoa, yogurt, onions, milk and baked potatoes are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber or protein, and perfectly suited for someone with diabetes. The key is paying attention to carbohydrates per serving and determining how that fits into your overall meal plan.
Tina Ruggiero, M.S., R.D., L.D., is a nutrition expert and award-winning author. Her newest book is “The Truly Healthy Family Cookbook.” Find Tina at www.TinaRuggiero.com.