Diabetes Myths #2 – Its all about sugar

I remember at one point when I was a kid my mother saying “if you eat too many sweets you’ll be diabetic” or something along those lines.  Its one of those “everyone knows” things which isn’t actually true.  These days, more people are aware that its not true, but there is a general perception among the public that diabetes is all about sugar, so just have a cappuccino without the sugar, right?  Maybe I’ll only have half this skinny muffin cos its probably got some sugar in it.

The situation is not helped by people talking about “blood sugar” rather than “blood glucose”.  When you mention sugar, people have all kinds of preconceptions but if people started talking about “blood glucose” more often then people would not make the same assumptions they currently do about the word “sugar”.

The way that most people think about sugar has nothing to do with diabetes.

We all eat or drink sugar in one form or another all the time, but that does not translate into having a lot of sugar in your blood.  In fact, since people think of sugar as being the white stuff in a bowl, there is NO sugar in your blood.  What we do have in our blood is glucose and the vast majority of it is not eaten in the form of glucose – the body makes it from other food substances.

So where does this glucose come from that appears in our blood?  A tiny proportion of it will come directly from the food we eat in the form of glucose.  Take cereal bars for example – all those lovely “healthy” ingredients are held together with glucose syrup.  But taking a look at the ingredients of most of the food we eat, there’s nowhere near enough glucose to account for how much we have sloshing around our bloodstream – and the body needs that glucose so where does it come from?

Normally, the body will make glucose from carbohydrates.  Confusion arises here because “sugar” is a carbohydrate.  So is glucose.  The sugars are a small family of chemical compounds (everything is a chemical – even water) but this family of sugars is part of a wider family – carbohydrates.  What surprises most people is that most of the carbohydrates in a “normal healthy diet” do not come from sugars at all, but from starches – in the form of bread, potatoes, pasta, rice and products made with white flour.

So most of your blood “sugar” had nothing to do with sugar in the first place.  Your body made it out of potatoes etc.

There is another misconception about sugars in that its generally considered that in a diabetic, sugar will raise your blood glucose faster than anything else.  This is not true either, but that’s a separate, more complex topic – Glycemic Index (see myth #7).

So although we all grow up “knowing” that diabetes is all about sugar, its not actually true.  Its about all carbohydrates.  Just that one bit of information makes all the difference when looking at how to manage diabetes.

So going back to our cappuccino, the biggest problem isn’t the spoonful of sugar you were going to put into it.  Its the carbohydrates in the milk – or even all that flour which went into making that nice low fat “skinny” muffin.

The sugar has only a walk-on bit-part in this particular drama…..

….he just gets top billing because he\’s the most famous.

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