Eight misconceptions about diabetes

What do you think when someone says they have diabetes? That they can never have sugar or that eventually they are going to lose a leg?

Diabetes is a condition in which the body doesn’t make or use insulin correctly. The most common types of diabetes are type 1 and type 2. In type 1 diabetes, the body makes little or no insulin due to an autoimmune reaction that destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. In type 2 diabetes, the body either doesn’t produce enough insulin or resists insulin. 

Aggie Cowan, MS, RD/LD, CDE, Dietitian and Diabetes Education Specialist

The effects of diabetes vary person to person but there are some common misconceptions that should be cleared up. At St. Joseph’s/Candler, our diabetes educators with the Diabetes Management program are here to clear some myths.

“We don’t approach it as you have diabetes and you have to give up all these things,” says Aggie Cowan, MS, RD/LD, CDE, Dietitian and Diabetes Education Specialist. “Many people have been told things like that, and because they get referred to us, we have a chance to clear up misconceptions. There are a ton of misconceptions.”

Here are some common misconceptions surrounding diabetes:

Misconception 1. Diabetes is not that serious of a disease

Let’s look at the numbers. According to the National Diabetes Statistic Report, released in July by the Centers for Disease Control’s Division of Diabetes Translation, more than 100 million people in the United States have diabetes (30.3 million) or pre-diabetes (84.1 million). In Georgia, almost 1 in 12 has diabetes.

Diabetes causes more deaths a year than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined, according to the American Diabetes Association. Having diabetes nearly doubles your chance of having a heart attack.

We are not trying to scare anyone but diabetes should be taken seriously. And, there’s good news. Proper diabetes control can reduce your risks for diabetes complications such as damage to the eyes, heart, blood vessels, nervous system, teeth and gums, feet and skin or kidneys. Studies show that keeping blood glucose, blood pressure and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels close to normal can help prevent or delay those problems.

“There is no cure for diabetes, but you can manage it,” says Theresa George, RN, Diabetes Education Specialist. “We like to tell people, ‘You are not a diabetic, so to speak, you are diagnosed with the diabetes. You are not the disease.’”

Misconception  2. If you are overweight or obese, you will eventually develop type 2 diabetes

Being overweight is a risk factor for developing diabetes, but there are other risk factors such as family history, ethnicity and age that also play a role. You shouldn’t disregard the other risk factors. In fact, most overweight people never develop type 2 diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. However, exercise is important for anyone who faces other risk factors of diabetes, and it’s especially important for people diagnosed with diabetes to exercise regularly. The ADA recommends at least 150 minutes a week of cardio and resistance exercise.

“Your exercise routine will be different based on each person’s body type,” George says. “We recommend walking; it’s probably one of the simplest exercises you can do. Other suggestions include dancing, aerobics, water aerobics, et cetera. We also recommend stretching five to 10 minutes before and after you work out.” 

Theresa George, RN, Diabetes Education Specialist

Misconception  3. Eating too much sugar causes diabetes

A lot of sugar is not good for anyone. However, if you want to avoid diabetes that doesn’t mean you have to totally eliminate sugar from your diet.

“Your body can only handle a certain amount of carbs every meal, whether it’s sugar carbohydrates or starch carbohydrates,” Cowan says. “If you are getting your carb grams as Coca-Cola and Honey Cakes, things like that, it’s not going to be healthy.”

If you are concerned about your sugar intake, Cowan recommends start by phasing out sugary drinks, whether it’s natural sugar or added sugar. Reduce the amount of soda, sweet tea and juices. One cup of fruit punch or other sugary fruit drinks has about 100 calories or more and 30 grams of carbohydrates. Depending on your diet, one meal should only contain 45 to 60 grams of carbs. Our education specialists can help determine the right amount of carbs you should consume.

Misconception  4. If you have diabetes, you shouldn’t eat starchy foods, such as bread, potatoes and pasta

As mentioned above, people with diabetes do need to watch their carbohydrate intake; however, it doesn’t have to be totally eliminated. Starchy foods can be part of a healthy meal plan, but portion size is key.

“One myth is that carbs are bad, but that’s just Dr. Atkins and South Beach (diets),” Cowan says. “There are healthy and less than healthy carbs. Healthy carbs should be consumed more often, while less healthier foods should be consumed in small amounts. Learn to be satisfied with small tastes of desserts.

“Avoid refined carbs. Eat lots more fruits and vegetables and whole grains,” Cowan continues. “Don’t get rid of carbs because that’s what fruits, vegetables and whole grains are, but try to replace the refined ones with more of the whole grains and more fruits, not the juice.”

Examples of refined carbs include white rice, white pasta, crackers, cookies, bagels and muffins, amongst others.

In addition to refined carbs, George recommends staying away from foods high in salt and fat, especially saturated and trans fats.

“Even if you are not diagnosed with high blood pressure but you are diagnosed with diabetes, you also have to watch your kidneys and protect your kidneys,” George says. “You want to stay away from too much salt.”

Misconception  5. People with diabetes can’t eat sweets or chocolate

Managing your diabetes involves certain lifestyle practices including exercise and a healthy diet. If eaten as part of a healthy meal plan and combined with exercise, sweets and desserts can be eaten by people with diabetes. It’s all about moderation.

“Diabetes doesn’t mean no sweets ever. I mean, what are you going to have on your birthday?” Cowan says. “It does mean, yes, if you are drinking sweet sodas and juices or eating sugary desserts every day, it’s not healthy for you.”

Misconception  6. People with diabetes are more prone to get colds and other illnesses

You are no more likely to get a cold or another illness if you have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. However, the ADA recommends people with diabetes get a flu shot because any illness can make diabetes more difficult to control. People with diabetes who get the flu are more likely than others to go on to develop serious complications.

Related Article: Who should get the flu shot? Everyone

Misconception  7. If you have type 2 diabetes and your doctor says you need to start using insulin, it means you are failing to take care of your diabetes

Diabetes is a progressive disease, but you can prolong it for a long time through diet, exercise and taking medications as prescribed, George says. However, there’s no cure for diabetes, and over time, your body gradually produces less and less of its own insulin. When the body cannot make enough insulin, an injection or insulin pump may be necessary. Don’t look at this as a failure. Getting your blood glucose levels to a healthy level is a good thing.

Misconception  8. People with diabetes are going to lose a limb such as a foot or leg

“We hear a lot of, ‘I know someone who had diabetes and lost a leg,’ or ‘They are on dialysis because of their diabetes,’” George says. “These are very extreme cases, and they are out there, but we can’t stress enough if you manage your diabetes and don’t let it manage you, you won’t have to worry about those problems more than likely.”

George says complex problems for people with diabetes are accompanied with conditions like cardiovascular disease, hypertension and hyperlipidemia. She stresses the importance of controlling your blood pressure and cholesterol.

“It’s important to stay on track with any medications you are prescribed, regular doctor’s visits, a healthy eating plan, exercise and monitoring your blood sugar,” George says. “We can’t stress that enough.”


The St. Joseph’s/Candler Center for Diabetes Management is an American Diabetes Association certified program. It offers individual diabetes management counseling programs as well as group educational classes on topics including exercise, carb counting and diet and preventing complications with diabetes.

A doctor’s referral is required for insurance reimbursement; however, the staff can help with referrals. For more information, call 912-819-6146 or visit our website


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  • St. Joseph's Hospital Campus: 11705 Mercy Blvd., Savannah, GA 31419, (p) 912-819-4100
  • Candler Hospital Campus: 5353 Reynolds St., Savannah, GA 31405, (p) 912-819-6000
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