With so many myths passing from one person to the next, it can be hard to differentiate what is true and what is false when it comes to diabetes. In this blog, I’ll discuss 5 common misconceptions about type 2 diabetes.
I wrote this for you as a two-part series. In Part 1 below, you will learn misconceptions about what causes type 2 diabetes. Next week, I will publish part 2 and you will learn common misconceptions regarding ways to treat it. My purpose is to give you clear information that helps you heal yourself so that you experience your best possible results.
Misconception #1: Thin people don’t get type 2 diabetes
A common misconception is that type 2 diabetes only occurs in overweight people. While it is true that being overweight or obese increases the risk for type 2 diabetes, skinny people can develop severe type 2 diabetes as well.
This occurs because other factors, besides body weight, contribute to a person’s risk of type 2 diabetes. If your first thought is the problem is genetics, that’s only partially true. Family history may predispose you to develop type 2 diabetes, but dietary fat, inflammatory foods, and lifestyle habits are even more important factors.
Research shows type 2 diabetes is closely linked to high-fat, high-calorie, low-fiber foods and physical inactivity. [Reference 1]. A high-fat diet with large amounts of animal products and processed foods makes our cells stop responding to insulin (insulin resistance), which is the definition of type 2 diabetes. If your diet is low in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, you’re at risk for experiencing insulin resistance (i.e. type 2 diabetes) even if you are not overweight. Additionally, a sedentary lifestyle, stress, and sleep deprivation increase the risk.
Misconception #2: Eating too much sugar causes diabetes
By itself, sugar is not the root cause of type 2 diabetes. After a person has diabetes, eating too much sugar will make their blood glucose difficult to control. However, eating sugar does not start the disease on its own. Rather, the main root cause is a diet high in saturated fat. [References 2 & 3]
This does not mean it’s safe to eat a sugary diet. A diet with excessive added sugar (the sugar added to foods during production) causes its own set of health problems. For example, added sugar promotes heart disease. This occurs because added sugar creates inflammation in the blood vessels. By itself, added sugar makes our arteries more likely to clog. For this reason, the American Heart Association recommends that people consume no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar per day for women and 9 teaspoons (36 grams) for men. [Reference 4] The World Health Organization is even stricter and recommends an upper limit of 6 teaspoons for both women and men.
Regarding sugar, it is important to understand the difference between added sugar and natural sugar found in whole foods such as fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. Added sugar causes health problems because it is quickly absorbed in the gut and rapidly raises blood sugar levels. In an attempt to avert a crisis and keep the blood sugar in the normal range, the pancreas produces a surge of insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. At times, the pancreas overreacts, producing too much insulin. Sometimes the blood sugar crashes, making you feel sluggish. It’s like putting yourself on a roller coaster of rising and falling blood sugar levels.
Unlike added sugar, the natural sugar in fresh whole fruit is good for our bodies. For starters, the natural sugar in whole fruit does not cause heart disease. The opposite is true. Fruit is protective against inflammation and helps prevent insulin resistance and supports heart health. When you eat a piece of fresh fruit, the natural sugar is absorbed slowly so that the body can easily regulate the blood sugar levels properly. Fresh fruit is a wonderful source of energy that supports the normal cellular function in all of our organs.
Right now you’re probably asking, “is fruit juice a healthy choice? Unfortunately, juice causes health problems similar to sugar. The problem with fruit juice is the fiber is missing, therefore the gut absorbs juice too quickly. The result is similar to the rapid blood sugar spikes we get when we consume processed added sugar. Also, fruit juice is more calorie-dense than whole fruit; therefore, juice promotes weight gain. For these reasons, I recommend eating whole fruit rather than drinking juice. If you like the convenience of drinking your fruits and vegetables, use a blender and prepare a whole food (fiber-rich) smoothie.
Misconception #3: There are no symptoms of diabetes
While some people have no symptoms of diabetes, others become acutely ill. Symptoms depend on the severity of the condition, speed of onset, and type of diabetes. People with type 2 diabetes may have no symptoms (initially). On the other hand, people with type 1 diabetes experience severe symptoms and require hospitalization at the onset and treatment with insulin to stabilize their condition.
Common symptoms include:
- Extreme thirst
- Frequent urination
- Unexplained weight loss
- Excessive hunger
- Blurred vision
- Fruity breath odor
Misconception #4: Type 2 diabetes only happens in adults, while type 1 only occurs in children
Thirty years ago, type 2 diabetes was termed “adult-onset diabetes” because it rarely occurred in children. But today, type 2 diabetes is on the rise in children mainly due to the obesity epidemic in kids.
In type 2 diabetes, the body still produces its own insulin, but the cells have stopped responding to it (insulin resistance). For a while, the pancreas compensates by producing excessive insulin. Eventually, the overworked pancreas burns itself out and insulin injections are required (insulin-dependent type 2 diabetes).
Type 1 diabetes is different because it is an autoimmune disease, meaning that your immune system mistakenly attacks the pancreas so that it no longer produces insulin. Years ago, type 1 diabetes was known as juvenile diabetes because it is more common among children; however, this condition can develop at any age.
Researchers noticed that some adults experience features of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Thus they coined the term type 1.5 diabetes or latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA).
Gestational diabetes is diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. Even if it goes away after pregnancy, many of these women develop type 2 diabetes at a later time in life.
Misconception #5: Prediabetes is not serious
With prediabetes, it is easy to slip into a false sense of complacency. The term prediabetes is misleading because it implies that you don’t have diabetes yet. Many people leave the doctor’s office thinking they dodged a bullet, “phew, I am so glad I don’t have diabetes.” It’s best to think of prediabetes as an early stage of type 2 diabetes.
Until the underlying cause is addressed, with diet and lifestyle habits, prediabetes progresses to type 2 diabetes, an entirely preventable situation. Unprocessed, high-fiber low-fat, whole plant-based foods, including vegetables, fruits, and whole grains legumes (beans, lentils, and chickpeas), help decrease insulin resistance and reverse prediabetes quickly.
Thirteen years ago, I developed prediabetes and it was truly a wake-up call for me. My elevated A1C compelled me to change my eating habits and I successfully reversed my prediabetes within just a few weeks.
In summary, I hope that you now understand the root causes of diabetes. Fortunately, prediabetes and type 2 diabetes are largely preventable conditions based on diet and lifestyle habits. Stay tuned for Part 2, next week, where I will discuss misconceptions about how to control or reverse diabetes so that you can avoid making those mistakes and get it right.
In the meantime, if you like this blog, share it with your friends on social media who would enjoy the information.
1. Diabetes. Mayo Clinic website. Accessed September 25, 2019. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/symptoms-causes/syc-20371444
2 .C Xiao, A Giacca, A Carpentier, G F Lewis. Differential effects of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated fat ingestion on glucose-stimulated insulin secretion, sensitivity and clearance in overweight and obese, non-diabetic humans. Diabetologia. 2006 Jun;49(6):1371-9.
3 .Wang L, Folsom AR, Zheng ZJ, et al. Plasma fatty acid composition and incidence of diabetes in middle-aged adults: the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;78:91–98.
4. Added Sugars. American Heart Association website. Accessed September 28, 2019. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/added-sugars
Carla Hightower, MD, MBA is a physician, health coach, workplace wellness consultant, and speaker. She helps people heal themselves with food. Through wellness workshops and courses, she helps companies create healthy, energetic teams.
5 Ways to Boost Your Energy
>> Nutritious foods that increase energy
>> Tips for waking up well-rested
>> Lifestyle changes to help you feel vibrant & alive