Are potatoes off-limits for people with diabetes? Do fruits and veggies affect blood glucose? Is it safe to drink alcohol? We separate fact from fiction on some widely held myths about healthy food choices for people with diabetes.

Diabetic Living Editors

Sweets or No Sweets?

Is the following statement true or false?

People with diabetes can enjoy sweets and sugary foods on occasion.

It's true.

People with diabetes can enjoy sweets and sugary foods on occasion.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) says sources of added sugars, such as sweeteners used in sugary foods and sweets, can be consumed by people with diabetes as part of their total daily carbohydrate and calorie counts. The first time this statement appeared in the ADA nutrition recommendations was 1994. This represented a dramatic change from the previous recommendation that guided people with diabetes to treat sweets and sugary foods as forbidden. The recommendation changed due to research suggesting that sucrose and other sugars in foods do not have a greater impact on blood glucose levels than other sources of carbohydrate.

The current ADA guidelines, last published in late 2013, suggest that the amount of carbohydrate and available insulin may be the most important factors that influence blood sugar levels after eating. For glucose control throughout the day, especially if you don't take insulin, you should eat similar amounts of carbohydrate from meal to meal. If you take rapid-acting insulin before meals, you need to balance the amount of insulin with the carbohydrate you consume.

For people who need to lose weight and for those interested in eating healthfully, the ADA recommends eating only small amounts of foods containing added sugars because these foods are likely high in calories and possibly fat.

Is Fruit Juice Off-Limits?

Is the following statement true or false?

People with diabetes shouldn't drink fruit juice.

It's false.

People with diabetes can drink fruit juice.

People with diabetes can fit 100 percent fruit juice into their meal plan. But fresh, frozen, or canned fruits contain some fiber, and they're more filling than juice. Plus, it's easier to gulp down too much juice than eat too much fruit. Even 100 percent fruit juices are high in calories and carbohydrate-up to 120 calories and 29 grams of carb in 8 ounces.

In addition, juice may spike blood sugar more quickly, because as a liquid it's digested more quickly than a solid. When digestion is faster, you will get a faster rise in blood sugar.

You can accommodate juice; just limit the serving to about 4 ounces. Be aware that when consuming orange juice in individual bottles or from a restaurant, the servings could be doubled or even tripled. You can also try diluting juice with water or seltzer water to enjoy a less-concentrated, sweet-tooth-satisfying fruit drink.

Drinking Alcohol with Diabetes

Is the following statement true or false?

People with diabetes can't drink alcohol.

It's false.

People with diabetes can drink alcohol in moderation.

The same guidelines for alcohol that apply to the general public also apply to most people with diabetes: If you want to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. If you take a blood glucose-lowering medication that can cause hypoglycemia, make sure you check your glucose level prior to drinking alcohol, and carry something with you to treat hypoglycemia should it occur. However, if you take medications and have other medical issues that might interact negatively with alcohol, check with your health care provider as a precaution.

Moderation is defined by the U.S. Government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans and other organizations as no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women. One drink is defined as:

• 12 ounces of beer

• 5 ounces of wine

• 1.5 ounces of hard liquor (distilled spirits)

Alcohol has 7 calories per gram. Some alcoholic beverages, including wine, contain a small amount of carbohydrate. All types of alcohol consumed in moderation have been shown to have some heart-health benefits: raising HDL (good) cholesterol and improving insulin resistance.

People who should not drink alcohol at all include pregnant women and people with medical problems such as:

• high levels of triglycerides

• advanced diabetes nerve problems

• pancreatitis (an inflammation of the pancreas)

• current or past alcohol addiction

Fresh or Frozen?

Is the following statement true or false?

Fresh produce is always better than frozen.

It's false.

Fresh produce is not necessarily better than frozen.

Sometimes frozen fruits and vegetables (without added sugars or sodium from sauces or seasonings) actually contain more nutrients than fresh produce. It depends on where you buy the food and how far it has traveled since harvest. If you purchase produce from a local farmer, fresh may provide more nutrients as long as you prepare and eat the food quickly. If produce in your grocery store came from Latin America and took a week to get there, frozen is likely better. No matter the way food is processed or stored, it will lose nutrients-vitamins and minerals-over time. The carbohydrate and fat content remain basically the same.

And don't rule out canned fruits and vegetables, as long as you choose reduced-sodium options.

Aspartame and Alzheimer's

Is the following statement true or false?

Aspartame, a low-calorie sweetener, causes Alzheimer's disease.

It's false.

Aspartame has not been shown to cause Alzheimer's disease.

Negative allegations that associate aspartame with dementia are not based on science. Leading health and diabetes authorities-including the American Diabetes Association, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the American Academy of Pediatrics-agree that aspartame, along with other low-calorie sweeteners approved by the FDA and other regulatory organizations around the world, are safe for people of all ages, including people with diabetes.

The body breaks down aspartame into the amino acids, aspartic acid, and phenylalanine, as well as a small amount of methanol. These components are found naturally in foods such as meats, milk, fruits, and vegetables, and in higher amounts than what you'd consume drinking or eating aspartame. Your body uses these components in exactly the same way, whether they come from common foods or aspartame. Aspartame, along with other sugar substitutes, offers people with diabetes greater variety and flexibility in food choices and helps them satisfy sweet cravings.

Does Cinnamon Lower Blood Sugar?

Is the following statement true or false?

Cinnamon in sufficient quantities may lower blood sugar.


It's a possibility that cinnamon lowers blood sugar.

Regular ground cinnamon and cinnamon sticks were used in studies to test whether cinnamon lowers blood sugar. In the studies, the suggested intake amount to experience a decrease in blood sugar was 1/2 teaspoon per day. However, the research on cinnamon is not conclusive, and the use of cinnamon has not become part of common clinical practice. More research is needed before conclusions can be made about cinnamon's role in treating diabetes.

Fatty Foods and Blood Glucose

Is the following statement true or false?

The fat in foods doesn't raise blood glucose.

It's true.

Fat does not have a direct impact on blood glucose.

Fat from foods doesn't directly raise blood glucose. A large amount of fat at a meal can delay stomach emptying and can slow the rise of blood glucose. When eating a lower-fat meal, you might see the peak rise in blood sugar 1 to 2 hours after; when eating a high-fat meal, you might see the peak in blood sugar 3 to 4 hours after.

Our bodies actually need a small amount of fat to help with absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and to operate properly.

In general, though, people with diabetes should limit saturated and trans fats due to the risk of cardiovascular effect: The more saturated and trans fats you eat, the more you are at risk of a cardiovascular event or heart disease. Both trans and saturated fats have the negative effect of raising your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Trans fats hurt you even more-they also lower your HDL (good) cholesterol levels. They are found in foods that come from animals: lard, butter, cheese, meat, and poultry. They are also in the oils of tropical plants such as coconut and palm. Our daily caloric intake should contain less than 10 percent saturated fat.

Trans fats are put into processed foods to improve their shelf life and include partially hydrogenated oils. Today, you see labels marketing "no trans fats." The closer to zero trans fats you consume, the better off you are.

Different fats have different effects on your lipid (cholesterol) levels, weight, and overall health. The more healthful (good) fats-monounsaturated and polyunsaturated-are actually an important part of our diet. Monounsaturated fats are found in olive oil, canola oil, some nuts, and avocados. Polyunsaturated fats are found in the healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in fatty fish, olive oil, flaxseed, and walnuts.

Do Eggs Raise Cholesterol?

Is the following statement true or false?

Eggs automatically raise your cholesterol.

It's false.

Eggs don't automatically raise cholesterol.

People with diabetes can safely eat a few eggs a week. The number of eggs you should eat depends on your risk for or whether you have cardiovascular disease.

Prepare eggs healthfully: The best way to cook is to scramble eggs in a nonstick pan, using a healthy liquid oil or oil spray, or poach them in water. A fried egg, especially one fried in butter, will contain some saturated fat from the butter. Consider frying an egg with a bit of vegetable oil instead of butter. There's very little saturated fat in an egg itself.

Potatoes and Diabetes

Is the following statement true or false?

People with diabetes should not eat potatoes.

It's false.

People with diabetes can enjoy potatoes.

People with diabetes don't have to give up potatoes; just balance them as part of a meal. When potatoes (a starchy vegetable) are part of a meal, try to balance the plate by including nonstarchy vegetables such as a lettuce salad, green beans, or broccoli.

Potatoes are rich in nutrients-for example, they're higher in potassium than bananas-and they provide dietary fiber and are good sources of vitamin C.

When eating potatoes, remember portion size and be honest about quantity. One serving of potatoes is roughly the size of your fist, or about 1/2 cup. Baked and boiled potatoes are the healthiest choices. Instead of opting for potato chips or mashed potatoes loaded with butter and sour cream, try salsa, spicy mustard, or Greek yogurt to boost flavor.

To make oven-fried potatoes: Cut 4 medium potatoes or sweet potatoes lengthwise into wedges. Drizzle the wedges with 1 tablespoon olive oil or canola oil. Bake wedges in an even layer on a baking sheet at 375 degrees F for 50 minutes. Makes 4 servings. Per serving: 164 calories, 3.5 g total fat (0 g saturated fat), 0 mg cholesterol, 8 mg sodium, 31 g carbohydrate (1 g sugars, 2 g fiber), 4 g protein.

Fruit and Blood Sugar

Is the following statement true or false?

People with diabetes should not eat fruit because it raises blood sugar.

It's false.

People with diabetes should eat fruit.

While it's true that any food that contains carbohydrate (including fruit) will raise blood sugar if there's not sufficient insulin (either made by the body or via injection) available, it doesn't mean you should eliminate healthy sources of carbs from your eating plan. One way to help keep your blood sugar under control is to make sure your portions of carbohydrate-containing foods aren't too large. When choosing fruit, opt for fresh fruit, frozen fruit with no added sugar, or canned fruit in light syrup or 100 percent fruit juice.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that everyone, including people with diabetes, eat about 2-1/2 cups of fruit per day. Fruits and vegetables, whether fresh, frozen, or canned, are excellent sources of important vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. In fact, most people don't eat enough fruits and vegetables, which provide essential nutrients such as vitamins A and C, potassium, and magnesium. Another plus: Fruits and vegetables are relatively low in calories.

• One serving of fruit (one small piece or half of a large piece) has 15 grams carb and 60 calories.

• One serving of nonstarchy vegetables (1/2 cup cooked) has 5 grams carb and 25 calories.

• One serving of starchy vegetables (1/2 cup cooked) contains 15 grams carb and 80 calories

Eating Pasta with Diabetes

Is the following statement true or false?

People with diabetes can eat pasta.

It's true.

People with diabetes can eat pasta.

Some pastas are more healthful than others. Whole wheat and whole grain pasta may cause a slightly lower effect on your blood sugar due to its fiber content. It also provides more fiber than refined pasta.

Whole grain pasta includes the entire grain and its health benefits. Refined pastas remove the bran and the germ and, along with them, the fiber content. Whole grains move through the digestive tract slower than refined and keep you feeling full longer.

Tip: When purchasing a whole grain food, check the label carefully: The first ingredient should be a whole grain, such as whole wheat or whole semolina.

Corn Syrup and Diabetes

Is the following statement true or false?

High-fructose corn syrup causes type 2 diabetes.

It's false.

High-fructose corn syrup does not cause diabetes.

Consuming high-fructose corn syrup is not the sole factor in the development of type 2 diabetes. (High-fructose corn syrup, like white table sugar, has about 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose.) However, it is used to sweeten many prepared and commercial foods and regular sweetened beverages. Consuming too many foods with high-fructose corn syrup as well as other added sugars increases your calorie consumption and will likely cause weight gain. It is excess weight along with your family history and other risk factors that can cause prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.

To limit the amount of high-fructose corn syrup you consume, check the ingredients to see whether a food contains it. Also check to see how far down on the ingredients list it is. Ingredients are listed in descending order by quantity used (by weight). High-fructose corn syrup is often used as a sweetener in:

• regular soda and other sweet drinks like fruit punch, lemonade, and sports and energy drinks

• candy

• frozen desserts like ice cream

• pancake syrup (that is not pure maple syrup)

• sweetened cereals

• fruit-flavor yogurt

• pasta sauces