Can Eating Too Much Sugar Cause Diabetes?

Eating Too Much Sugar Cause Diabetes

Does eating sugar increase your diabetes risk? Find out what the experts have to say

One of the questions that puzzle many people is the possible link between eating too much sugar and diabetes. If you have been wondering, can eating too much sugar cause diabetes, you are not alone. More than 100 million Americans have diabetes or prediabetes, so concerns about whether consuming too much sugar can cause diabetes are only natural. After all, type 2 diabetes is characterized by high levels of sugar in your blood so it makes sense that there would be a correlation. Actually, diabetes is a complex disease that has a number of contributing factors. Examining the workings of this disease is the best way to understand the relationship between eating sugar and diabetes.  

Is sugar the cause of diabetes?

There are no simple answers when it comes to sugar and diabetes. Experts agree that eating too much sugar in and of itself does not cause diabetes.  In fact, you need a certain amount of sugar in your diet because it stimulates the pancreas to produce insulin. However, eating too much sugar can cause you to become overweight, which can help increase your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

So what causes diabetes?

Once researchers discovered that sugar didn’t cause diabetes, they considered carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are broken down into sugar, so perhaps they were the cause of diabetes. Simple and complex carbs are digested and metabolized differently. Simple carbs, like table sugar and glucose, are digested quickly, leading to spikes in blood sugar. Complex carbs such as quinoa, whole grain bread, and legumes, are digested more slowly. The result is a slow and steady stream of energy that keeps blood glucose levels steady without dangerous spikes.

Does sugar increase insulin resistance?

Insulin is the hormone that processes blood sugar and sends it to cells to use for energy. In individuals with diabetes, their systems are resistant to insulin and unable to process glucose effectively.  Instead of powering their cells, glucose accumulates in their blood and rises to dangerous levels. When this insulin resistance reaches severe levels that cannot be compensated for with diet, diabetics need to take insulin.

So what is the link between sugar and diabetes?

If you become overweight, your risk of developing diabetes is ten times higher than someone who maintains a healthy weight. Where you carry the weight makes a difference also. Weight gain that is primarily in the mid-torso region (so-called belly fat) is more likely to lead to diabetes than fat that is more generally spread out around the body. Foods that are high in added sugar often are high in fasts as well, and tend to contribute the most to weight gain.

Diabetes and high fructose corn syrup

Research suggests that one type of sugar may contribute to diabetes risk in overweight individuals. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a highly concentrated form of sugar that is digested quickly and causes extreme blood sugar spikes. Soda and sweetened beverages are prime sources of HFCS and digest even more quickly than food because they are in liquid form.   A single 12 ounce can of sweetened soda can contain 16 grams of sugar (4 teaspoons) or even more.  Some studies indicate that overweight and obese individuals who regularly consume these beverages experience a decrease in insulin sensitivity. Because this form of sugar is inexpensive, it is found in a wide variety of foods.

To sum up: while eating too much sugar does not cause diabetes, it does contribute to weight gain that increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Individuals who follow the dietary guidelines laid out by the American Diabetes Association will have a lowered risk of developing diabetes. Those guidelines call for a low fat diet that is rich in vegetables, whole grains, and other complex carbs, with no more than 9 teaspoons of sugar for males and 6 teaspoons for women. Following these guidelines will help you maintain a healthy weight and lower your diabetes risk.


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