Diabetes has become more common in countries where food is plentiful. Excess sugar consumption can lead to obesity, cardiovascular disease, and other health problems. But can it cause diabetes?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that over
Dietary changes and exercise can help manage diabetes and may help prevent prediabetes from becoming diabetes. But does eating sugar increase the risk of diabetes?
Research into the connection between sugar consumption and type 2 diabetes is ongoing. Eating sugar alone may not lead directly to diabetes, but sugar may play a role. Diabetes is a complex condition that results from a range of factors.
This article looks at studies investigating the links between sugar consumption and the development of type 2 diabetes.
Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes
In type 2 diabetes, the insulin the body produces is unable to manage the glucose that enters the blood after eating or drinking.
Once a person has diabetes, eating too much sugar can make things worse. Added sugars are refined carbohydrates, and the body absorbs them quickly into the bloodstream. This can result in a blood sugar spike.
As the body either lacks insulin or cannot use it correctly, it will have difficulty transferring the glucose in the blood to the body’s cells. Levels of glucose in the blood will remain high.
Over time, high levels of blood glucose can cause damage throughout the body, and complications such as diabetic neuropathy can arise.
Eating sugar does not appear to cause diabetes directly, but it may play a role.
In 2016 some
The authors of a
They noted that the liver absorbs fructose without regulating the intake. This could lead to a buildup of liver fats and a decrease in insulin sensitivity. Low insulin sensitivity makes it harder for the body to remove glucose from the bloodstream. If blood sugar becomes persistently high, type 2 diabetes can result.
Type 2 diabetes is one aspect of metabolic syndrome, which also encompasses obesity, cardiovascular disease, and other health conditions. In 2017, some
There seems to be a link between the overall consumption of foods containing added sugar and the incidence of type 2 diabetes. However, research has not shown that eating a lot of sugar will lead directly to diabetes. Precisely what forms the link between sugar and diabetes remains unclear and is likely part of a more complex process.
Many foods — such as fruits and some vegetables, such as carrots — naturally contain sugars. Others have sugar that people add at the table. Many foods contain hidden sugars that people might not expect to find.
Sugars that people add to foods include:
- table sugar (also called sucrose) that people put in drinks
- caster sugar for use in baking
- syrup, such as molasses or agave syrup
- cane sugar
- corn sweetener
- high fructose corn syrup
- fruit juice concentrate
Foods that naturally contain sugars are:
- fruits and some vegetables, which contain fructose
- milk and dairy products, which contain lactose
- juices and smoothies
Foods that contain added (and sometimes hidden) sugars include:
- sweetened drinks, including sodas and energy drinks
- cakes, cookies, and other baked goods
- many processed foods, including ketchup and ready meals
- sweetened milks and yogurts
- breakfast bars and cereals
- ice cream
- salad dressings
Check food labels in the store by looking not just for sugar content but also:
These are all types of sugar.
People with diabetes should check with their doctor on how to account for different types of sugars in their daily carb count.
The American Heart Association (AHA)
|For males||9 teaspoons or 36 g or 150 calories|
|For females||6 teaspoons or 25 g or 100 calories|
One gram of sugar provides
The World Health Organization recommends aiming for sugar to provide
Other tips for people with diabetes include:
- Choosing carbohydrates with a
lowglycemic index (GI), such as whole grains.
- Opt for whole fruit rather than sweetened snacks or juice, but remember to account for the sugar content.
- Choosing fiber-rich foods, such as legumes, to provide sustainable energy and help manage blood glucose.
- Opt for lean proteins and healthy fats to feel full for longer and reduce the temptation to have a sweet snack.
- Avoid low nutrient, processed foods, which can be high in salt and unhealthy fats, as well as sugars.
- Eat smaller meals more frequently. Large meals can cause blood sugar spikes and hunger between meals, which can lead to unhealthy snacking.
Though the link between sugar and type 2 diabetes is uncertain, there is a clear link between sugar and other health conditions.
Health risks associated with a high sugar intake
- a high body weight, which increases the risk of heart disease, some cancers, and type 2 diabetes
- tooth decay
- non-alcoholic-related fatty liver disease
- cardiovascular disease
- metabolic syndrome, which includes type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) can lead to problems such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and non-alcoholic-related fatty liver disease, according to the
For these reasons, some experts have called for measures to help lower the amount of sugar children consume, such as changes in marketing strategies and a higher tax on products containing sugar.
Here are some questions people ask about sugar and diabetes.
Can I use artificial sweeteners with diabetes?
Artificial sweeteners are likely safe for people with diabetes, but experts do not know how they might impact blood glucose levels or cardiometabolic health in the long term. The American Diabetes Association advise people to choose sugar- and sweetener-free options where possible, for example, seltzer instead of sweetened soda.
Do natural sugars have the same effect?
Consuming too much of any sugar can lead to a glucose spike. People should check their blood sugar levels if they change their diet and ensure they keep them within the targets agreed with their healthcare team.
How much sugar can people with diabetes eat?
People with diabetes should follow the same guidelines as other people, that is a maximum of
While the link between sugar and diabetes is unclear, reducing added sugar and processed food in the diet can help a person prevent type 2 diabetes and its complications.
Genetic and environmental factors can
Lifestyle choices that can help manage or reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes
- maintaining a suitable weight
- exercising regularly
- following a balanced diet that is rich in whole and plant-based foods
Anyone who has concerns that they may be at risk of developing or having type 2 diabetes should speak with a doctor. The sooner a person receives a diagnosis, the better chance they have of managing blood sugar levels effectively and avoiding complications.
Scientists do not yet know what role sugar plays in the development of diabetes. Across populations, a higher sugar intake seems to correlate with higher rates of type 2 diabetes. However, it is not yet clear why this happens.
Ways of reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes include exercising regularly and eating a balanced diet that is high in fiber, protein, and saturated fats.