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Call us toll-free† at
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Diabetes – these facts may surprise you!

Take our quick quiz to get some surprising facts about diabetes prevention and management.

More than 2 million Canadians have diabetes. If you’ve just been diagnosed with diabetes or prediabetes, the information can be overwhelming. If you’re cooking for someone who has diabetes, it can be confusing. Take our quick quiz to get some of the facts about diabetes management and prevention.

True or False?

1. Eating too much sugar causes diabetes

2. If you have been diagnosed with “prediabetes”, then you will definitely develop diabetes

3. If you have diabetes, you can’t eat any sugar or sugary foods

4. Fruit, bread and pasta are not allowed for people with diabetes

5. Regular exercise can help control blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes


1. Eating too much sugar causes diabetes

False. When carbohydrate-containing foods like bread, pasta, rice, milk and fruit are digested, they change into a type of sugar (called glucose). Blood glucose (also called blood sugar) levels naturally rise after eating carbohydrate foods, and then the hormone insulin uses that glucose to give you energy. In diabetes however, the levels of blood glucose build up and stay higher than normal because there either isn’t enough insulin produced (as in type 1 diabetes), or the insulin isn’t working properly (as in type 2 diabetes).

We don’t know what causes type 1 diabetes. The body’s defense system may be attacking insulin-making cells by mistake, but we don’t know why.

About 90% of people who have diabetes have type 2 diabetes. In this case, either there isn’t enough insulin produced, or the body isn’t effectively using the insulin that is produced. There are the many different risk factors that can cause type 2 diabetes. You can’t do anything about your age or ethnicity, but you can change some of the other risk factors by eating well and being active.

Risk factors for type 2 diabetes:

  • Age – being 40 years or age and older;
  • Member of a high risk ethnic group – Aboriginal, Hispanic, Asian, South Asian, or African descent;
  • Overweight - especially if you have extra weight around the belly. About 80% of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight;
  • Family history - a parent, brother or sister with diabetes;
  • Health conditions - high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, high blood triglycerides, polycystic ovary syndrome, schizophrenia, or acanthosis nigricans (darkened patches of skin);
  • Pregnancy related - gave birth to a baby that weighed more than 4 kg (9 lb) or had gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy); and
  • Impaired glucose tolerance or fasting glucose.

To learn more about the risk factors for diabetes, see:
Type 1 diabetes. The Basics by Canadian Diabetes Association
Are you at risk? by Canadian Diabetes Association.


2. If you have been diagnosed with “prediabetes”, then you will definitely develop diabetes

False. “Prediabetes” is a condition in which your blood glucose levels are high, but not high enough yet to be called diabetes. As with type 2 diabetes, you can have prediabetes without even knowing it. The symptoms of prediabetes are the same as those for diabetes:

  • Feel thirsty often;
  • Need to urinate often;
  • Blurred vision;
  • Feel tired with no apparent reason;
  • Or, there may be no symptoms at all.

When you have prediabetes, you do have a higher chance of eventually developing diabetes. Your doctor may prescribe medications to bring your blood glucose back to more normal levels. But, your lifestyle habits can make a big difference too! You can help to prevent prediabetes from progressing to diabetes when you:

  • Eat a healthy lower-fat and low calorie diet;
  • Exercise moderately for at least 150 minutes a week (about 30 minutes a day on most days of the week); and
  • Lose 5-7% of your body weight.

In fact, research shows that making these lifestyle changes may lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by about 60-70%!

For more information on prediabetes, see Prediabetes – a chance to change the future, by Canadian Diabetes Association.


3. If you have diabetes, you can’t eat any sugar or sugary foods

False. According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, it’s OK for people with diabetes to eat a limited amount of sugar (sucrose), birthday cake, jellybeans and other sugar-containing foods as part of a meal plan that has been carefully designed by a Registered Dietitian.

If you haven’t seen a dietitian yet, ask your doctor for a referral to a dietitian at a hospital or diabetes education centre. Or, find a private practice dietitian from the Dietitians of Canada.

Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame potassium, thaumatin, and sugar alcohols (e.g. sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol, and xylitol) can also be part of a well-balanced diet for people with diabetes. Sweeteners help to make food taste sweet, without affecting your blood glucose levels.

To learn more about sugar and artificial sweeteners, see:
Sugars and Sweeteners by Canadian Diabetes Association
Sweet Choices by Canadian Diabetes Association


4. Fruit, bread and pasta are not allowed for people with diabetes

False. Fruit, bread, and pasta are all healthy foods that provide carbohydrate, energy, vitamins, minerals and fibre. When it comes to carbohydrate-containing foods, portion size is key. People with diabetes should eat carbohydrate at every meal. The amount of carbohydrate to eat varies from person to person, and has to be determined in consultation with a dietitian.

Some carbohydrates are better than others. If you’re cooking for someone who has diabetes, try to offer a variety of fibre-rich carbohydrate-containing foods that are also lower in fat such as:

  • whole grain bread, buns, cereal and crackers;
  • barley, bulgur, whole wheat couscous, whole wheat pasta, brown rice;
  • vegetables;
  • berries, melons, fruit with skins on; and
  • beans, chickpeas and lentils.

Try some of these healthy recipes, suitable for people with diabetes and check out the Top Ten Tips for Tasty and Healthy Meals, by the Canadian Diabetes Association.

Reading food labels can help you choose healthier foods. Learn more at:

Learn more about the different types of carbohydrates and low Glycemic Index foods:

5. Regular exercise can help control blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes

True. For anyone with type 2 diabetes, exercise is a very important part of their management plan. Not only does exercise help insulin to work better, but it also helps with weight loss, improves blood cholesterol levels, controls blood pressure, and zaps stress. If you have type 2 diabetes, here are some activity tips to keep in mind:

  • Before starting any exercise plan, always check with your doctor first.
  • Over three to five days, try to accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking, swimming or cycling) spread out over three or more days of the week. For example, a 30-minute walk on most days of the week would be fabulous! Start by walking 10 minutes at a time and gradually build up. The ultimate goal is to build up to four or more hours of exercise a week.
  • Resistance (strength) exercises should be done three times a week. See Canada’s Physical Activity Guide to Healthy Active Living or Physical Activity and Diabetes by Canadian Diabetes Association for more exercise tips and ideas.

If you have type 1 diabetes, it is more challenging to keep your blood glucose under control because the levels can vary depending on the type, duration, and intensity of exercise as well as when you last ate and took insulin. For this reason, people with type 1 diabetes should talk to their healthcare team about how to exercise safely. See Physical Activity and Type 1 Diabetes, by Canadian Diabetes Association.


Having type 2 diabetes more than doubles your risk for developing heart disease and stroke. The chances for developing these complications are two to three times higher in men and four to five times higher in women with diabetes, compared to those who do not have diabetes. Take care of your health and your heart by following our Heart Healthy Eating Tips, and have your blood pressure checked at every diabetes visit.

For more information on diabetes and heart disease see:
Heart Disease and Stroke, by the Canadian Diabetes Association

Additional information, tips and resources:

Canadian Diabetes Association

Diabetes information from Health Canada

Diabetes information from Public Health Agency of Canada


Copyright © Dietitians of Canada 2014. All rights reserved.

Dietitians of Canada acknowledges the financial support of EatRight Ontario by the Ontario government. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Province.