When a family member of mine was recently told by a doctor that her blood sugar was high, she did some online research and came to me with questions: Was it true she should give up bananas? Were carrots full of sugar? And could cinnamon really cure for diabetes? (Answers: no, no, and no).
I was used to hearing this kind of misinformation. Early in my career as a dietitian, I counseled patients with diabetes and heard everything from “Clear sodas like Sprite are better for you than colas” to “Bread doesn’t have any carbs if you toast it” (needless to say, both are false!).
If you have pre-diabetes or diabetes--or have a loved one who does--you know that there are a lot of confusing rumors and opinions around eating. I reached out to my dietitian colleagues who work in diabetes to share the biggest myths and misconceptions they hear, so I can help clear up some of the confusion for you.
Myth: “Sugar-free foods don’t raise blood sugar.”
When reading nutrition labels, many people only look at the amount of sugar a product contains. But it’s actually the amount of total carbohydrate that affects your blood sugar. For example, one popular sugar-free chocolate chip cookie has zero grams of sugar but 20 grams of carbohydrates--which means it will still impact your blood sugar.
Myth: “I can’t eat white potatoes, only sweet potatoes.”
They may be different colors and offer different nutrition perks (white potatoes have loads of vitamin C, sweet potatoes are full of vitamin A--and here are more reasons to eat potatoes), but both varieties contain about 24 grams of carbohydrates per cup.
Myth: “Honey is better than table sugar.”
It’s fine to have a flavor preference, but both of these are considered added sugars, and both have roughly the same grams of sugar and carbohydrates per teaspoon (honey actually has slightly more). One possible advantage of honey: It’s sweeter than white sugar, so you might be able to use a bit less of it. Here are a few more sugar myths.
Myth: “Gluten-free products have no carbs.”
Gluten-free foods are designed for people who can’t properly digest the protein gluten, found in wheat, barley, and rye. But that doesn’t mean those foods are carb-free. Gluten-free products like breads and crackers simply use different kinds of starches like potato or rice, so they may have just as many (or even more) carbs that their counterparts.
Myth: “You shouldn’t eat anything white.”
This was meant as a catch-all warning against breads, pastas, and rice (though this advice also discounts foods like cauliflower and onions, which doesn’t make any sense!). But you don’t have to ditch breads and pastas completely--just watch your portions. Ditto for darker-colored, whole grain versions like brown rice or whole wheat bread.
Myth: “Fruit is full of sugar.”
It’s true that fruit contains a natural form of sugar called fructose that affects blood sugar. So you may need to be mindful of your portions around fruit, like opting for a small banana instead of a large one. But fruit is also loaded with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and disease-fighting compounds, so please don’t nix it from your diet.