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Online learning resources for diabetes, asthma, hypertension, and nutrition.
Diabetes 101: Learn more about diabetes, managing your blood sugar levels, and your diet.
Diabetes 201: Learn more about diabetes, managing your blood sugars, and your diet.
Asthma 101: Learn more about asthma and dealing with shortness of breath.
Hypertension 101: Learn more about hypertension and managing your blood pressure.
Nutrition 101: Learn more about improving your nutrition and diet

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Good Eats: Fuel for Better Living

Mealtime Myths: The Truth About a Diabetic Diet

By Naomi Mendelsohn

"One thing we always say is that there's no such thing as a diabetic diet. It's basically learning how to eat healthfully. You can eat the same foods as the rest of your family."

Snickers bars, red Jello, a heaping bowl of pasta — aside from being delicious, these everyday foods are red flags for people with diabetes.

Or are they? For years people with diabetes have been forced to abide by strict dietary rules: no sugar, carbs or salt and heavy on the protein, protein, protein.

But rules are made to be broken. Just ask Amy E. Peterson, M.S., R.D., C.D.E., a nutritionist at Joslin Clinic in Boston and co-author of 16 Myths of a "Diabetic Diet."

"Ours is not a cookbook," Peterson explains. "It's addressing misconceptions that people have been told over the years by well-meaning family or friends."

What medical professionals know and well-meaning family and friends might not is that the rules of diabetic eating have changed over the years. In their book, Peterson and co-author Karen Hanson Chalmers, M.S., R.D, C.D.E., have explored and debunked various mealtime myths that have made eating unappetizing for people with diabetes.

When I had the chance to catch up with Peterson, she clarified some of the dos and don'ts of diabetes nutrition.

Myth #1: People with diabetes can't eat normal food.

One thing we always say is that there's no such thing as a diabetic diet. It's basically learning how to eat healthfully. You can eat the same foods as the rest of your family.

Myth #2: People with diabetes can't eat sugar.

That's one of the first myths we address in the book. Sugar is just a carbohydrate. We teach right off the bat that they people have to learn what foods are considered carbohydrates. There are other foods, like fruits, milk and sweet foods that are all carbohydrates. These foods have the most affect on blood sugar

Myth #3: Most restaurants don't serve "diabetic-friendly" food.

That can always be tricky but it is possible. One thing that helps is to practice portion control at home: measure out portions of pasta or rice. Weigh your chicken on a scale. Get used to what portion sizes look like. Train your eye. So when you are away from home, you can better "guesstimate" portions. Even the old trick of trying to leave half your food on the plate and taking the rest home is helpful.

Myth #4: People with diabetes can't eat in fast-food places.

Actually, some of the fast-food places have good choices like salad or broiled chicken or a hamburger without cheese. If people have a choice of fast food, sandwich places like Subway are the best.

Myth #5: People with diabetes must follow a rigid meal plan.

We teach people how to work treats in to their eating plan. For example, if kids want to have birthday cake at a birthday party, we teach them how to do that. If people want to have a nice big pasta dinner at an Italian restaurant, we can teach them to adjust their insulin if they want. Not too much, but it is possible.

Myth #6: People with diabetes must follow exchange lists.

We do use exchange lists or carbohydrate choices. This is a good way to teach people about different food groups. But we also teach label reading. We tell people to look at serving size first. Then we usually have them look at total fat, and then total carbohydrates, not sugar. Some patients who have had diabetes for years still like to use exchange lists, but younger people might want to learn about carb counting instead. It's fun to teach people carb counting. Then they can learn to fit in their favorite foods, like cookies. Their faces just light up. They're amazed at what they can eat and people can learn it anytime.

Naomi Mendelsohn is a content editor at savvyHEALTH.com.

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