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Diabetes: 7 Myths and 7 Facts

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Julie had a history of diabetes in her family, and although her doctor had been warning her of the risks, she was still caught off-guard when she was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at age 43.

Formerly known as adult onset diabetes, Type 2 diabetes normally runs in families. However, many who are diagnosed have no family history of the disease. It can also be caused by a person's lifestyle.

When she came to me, Julie had a lot of fear, in part because she didn't understand what the diagnosis meant for her diet and her future. I helped her separate the myths from the facts.

Myth: Once you are diagnosed with diabetes, you have to go on insulin shots.

Fact: If caught early, Type 2 diabetes can be managed with lifestyle -- diet and exercise. If more advanced, multiple oral medications exist that can control blood glucose levels. If you have diabetes, you may never need to be on insulin shots.

Myth: If your blood glucose or sugar levels are elevated, you will feel it in your body.

Fact: Diabetes is usually silent until your blood sugars are painfully high. Subtle signs may be having more carbohydrate or sugar cravings, or feeling fatigued or lack of energy even after having a good night's sleep.

Myth: If I have diabetes I will know it.

Fact: You can have diabetes for many years without knowing it. Anne Peters, M.D., a leading diabetologist and researcher at University of Southern California (USC), believes that the average person diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes actually had it for seven years prior to diagnosis!

Myth: Since I now have a diagnosis of diabetes, it feels like a death sentence.

Fact: Type 2 diabetes is extremely controllable with lifestyle and medications. It is not a death sentence by any stretch, and if managed daily can keep your life in balance.

Myth: Now that I have diabetes I can never eat a dessert.

Fact: Managing your blood sugars and diabetes means you have a balance of enough protein, moderate amounts of carbohydrate and good fat at your meals and snacks. Small amounts of sugar like in dark chocolate have minimal effects on your glucose levels if consumed in moderate quantities.

Myth: Since I now have diabetes I have to eat a rigid diet of boiled chicken and steamed broccoli.

Fact: Controlling your blood sugars means eating a balanced diet with fewer processed and starchy foods. Having a visit with a registered dietitian is important to set up a plan that works for your lifestyle.

Myth: Now that I have diabetes I'm afraid I will go blind or have to have an amputation.

Fact: Controlling your blood sugars means having little to no risk of health issues such as eye disease or having to undergo amputations. A blood test known as glycosylated hemoglobin A1C shows what your blood glucose values are averaging over a three-month period. Keeping that number in close to normal range dramatically lowers the risk of medical complications.

As I shared with Julie, having a diagnosis of diabetes does not mean your life is now about eating only lettuce. It means you need to be cognitive of what is happening in your body and know how to make modifications to avoid diabetes complications.

Adjusting the balance of your diet and adding just 30 minutes of walking per day can go a long way in managing blood sugars and keeping symptoms of diabetes at bay.

Susan is the author of "A Recipe for Life by the Doctor's Dietitian." For more information, visit susandopart.com.

For more by Susan B. Dopart, M.S., R.D., C.D.E., click here.

For more on diabetes, click here.

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