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Dispelling Myths About Diabetes And Dieting: Are Sugar-Free Foods Best?

Part of managing your diabetes is making conscious, healthful food choices. You don't have to completely deprive yourself of scrumptious meals and snacks - balance is the key.

Kelly O'Connor, RD, LDN, CDE, a registered dietitian and diabetes educator at the Diabetes & Nutrition Center at Northwest Hospital, helps debunk some food myths in the second of a two-part blog series about dietary options for people with diabetes:

Myth: People with diabetes should never give in to food cravings.

You're human. You're going to have cravings for foods that aren't the healthiest, and it's perfectly fine to satisfy those cravings—in moderation. Be aware of how many carbohydrates are in your guilty-pleasure foods and adjust your meals to accommodate them. "If you can help it, don't eat such foods late at night," O'Connor says.

Exercising after eating junk food that can raise your blood sugar levels can help bring your levels back down. "I have patients who kind of plan: 'I'm going to go out, I'm going to eat pizza. I know it's going to make my blood sugar go up, so I'm going to eat the pizza at, maybe, 1 o'clock in the afternoon, and then I'm going out walking for a while,'" O'Connor says. "Plan ahead if you can help it."

Even with diabetes, you should be able to eat your favorite foods. You may have to eat them in different ways, such as with a different combination of foods or at different times in the day. You have to be flexible and open to new ways to eating your favorite foods.

Myth: Juice is better than soda.

This one's a little tricky. Soda has no nutritional value whereas some juices may have valuable vitamins and minerals. But especially with fruit juice and smoothies, always keep in mind that all fruits are carbohydrates, which affect your blood glucose more than other nutrients.

"No matter what fresh fruit it is, if I squeeze it myself, I'm still making sugar. If I'm squeezing apples into apple juice or oranges into orange juice, I'm making even more sugar because I'm concentrating it," O'Connor says. "No juice is really better than any other juice. All of it can increase your blood sugar level."

O'Connor adds: "I think the thing that is very confusing for people is the fact that healthy foods still can make a lot of blood sugar. It might be healthy in terms of having fiber, vitamins and whole grains and not having any fat, but it still may cause high blood sugar, and you have to be aware of that."

Myth: Sugar-free foods are best.

Remember that sugar is just one carbohydrate. So if a food package says "sugar-free," that alone doesn't tell you everything about the total carbohydrate content. "If it says sugar-free, no added sugar, reduced sugar, low sugar, what I tell the patients who come to me is, 'You may not be getting the whole picture if you don't read the label as well. Always turn the package over and look at the carbohydrates," O'Connor says. "It may not contain sugar, like table sugar, but it still contains carbs."

Myth: You need to lose about 50 pounds to lower your blood sugars.

There's really no set amount of weight a person with diabetes must shed to improve blood sugar levels. Obesity is a risk factor in many chronic diseases. Research indicates that a loss of 7 to 10 percent body weight makes a significant difference in blood sugar levels. "If you're someone who's quite obese or overweight, I'm not saying to stop there. But don't be discouraged by just saying, "Well, I've only lost five or 10 or 12 pounds," because that does make quite a significant difference," O'Connor says.

It may be more realistic and motivating to set your weight loss goals in increments of 5 to 10 pounds, O'Connor adds.

In addition to the Diabetes & Nutrition Center at Northwest Hospital, LifeBridge Health offers a monthly diabetes support group led by certified educators from Sinai and Northwest hospitals, providing a welcoming environment for people living with the disease to share personal experiences and receive important information about topics related to diabetes management.

LifeBridge Health is one of the largest, most comprehensive providers of health services in Maryland. It comprises Sinai HospitalNorthwest HospitalCarroll HospitalLevindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital, and related subsidiaries and affiliates.

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