Does Sugar Cause Diabetes? Here’s What You Need to Know

Diabetes is a serious, chronic illness without a cure. Medications and lifestyle changes can only treat it. Occasionally, certain surgeries can reverse its second type. It’s not curable. But it is preventable.

If you’re trying to prevent type 2 diabetes, you might find yourself wondering if the foods you love to eat are increasing your disease risk. The good news is, one specific food might not be the problem. You might not want to hear the bad news.

Does eating sugar cause diabetes? It might depend on where you get your sugar from. But in reality, the onset of diabetes and its possible causes are much more complicated than that.

What causes diabetes?

Diabetes

Diabetes | iStock.com/BernardaSv

Possibly the hardest part about diagnosing diabetes is determining its root cause. Like many diseases, type 2 diabetes doesn’t always have an obvious trigger. The only factors doctors have to look at are those that may increase your risk of developing the chronic condition.

Some common risk factors for type 2 diabetes include:

  • Physical activity
  • Being considered overweight or obese
  • Insulin resistance
  • Family history and genetics.

Indirectly, sugar — in a way — can increase your risk of developing diabetes. Foods high in added sugars tend to be highly processed and contain unhealthy amounts of calories and saturated fat per serving. All these things combined can lead to weight gain, which can lead to diabetes.

Researchers believe that weight gain associated with excess calorie and nutrient intake triggers a unique stress response in your body’s cells. This response causes your cells to resist insulin — often a precursor to diabetes.

What causes high blood sugar?

“Eating too much sugar” might seem like the obvious answer here. And in some cases, this can contribute to dangerously high blood sugar. But for people with diabetes, elevated blood sugar levels can have many different causes. These might include:

  • Not following their diet plan
  • Not taking enough insulin
  • Not taking their diabetes medication
  • Taking certain other medications
  • Dealing with physical or emotional stress.

If you don’t follow a set diet plan with diabetes, eating too many calories can be enough to cause a blood sugar spike. Everything you eat is converted into glucose (sugar). When your body can’t make enough insulin to pull that sugar out of your blood, that’s where it stays.

So even if you eat too many foods low and sugar, the result could still prove dangerous. This is why people with uncontrolled diabetes often need to attend nutrition counseling for the sake of their short- and long-term health — even if they’re not overweight.

Can you get diabetes from eating too much fruit?

Bowl of Fresh fruits

Bowl of Fresh fruits | Wavebreakmedia/Getty Images

Actually, it’s recommended that people living with diabetes include fruit in their diets just like anyone else. Some studies even suggest that a normal intake of fruit could lower a person’s diabetes risk.

But if fruit is mostly sugar, how is it good for people who can’t eat too much sugar? Fruit contains a type of carbohydrate called fiber. Eating more fiber can stabilize blood sugar and contribute to weight loss and control if added appropirately to a healthy diet.

However, experts do recommend that people with diabetes — and those looking to prevent it — avoid fruits that aren’t fresh or frozen, such as canned fruits, smoothies, or fruit juices. These contain high concentrations of added sugars that could raise blood sugar.

How to prevent diabetes: Foods to avoid

Don’t want to get diabetes — especially if it seems to run in your family? Watching what you eat is more important than you might think. Even though sugar doesn’t “cause” diabetes, foods that tend to be high in sugar (except fruit) also tend to be high in calories per serving.

Foods you’ll either want to eat less of or avoid altogether might include:

  • Large amounts of any food
  • Canned fruits and fruit juices
  • Sweetened breakfast cereals
  • White rice, pasta, and bread
  • Crackers, cookies, and pastries
  • French fries and potato chips
  • Other packaged snack foods.

But it isn’t just about what you eat. Because physical inactivity is also a major risk factor, getting your workouts in can prove to be an important addition to your routine. Exercising regularly — at least five times per week — can also lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Even though sugar isn’t necessarily the root cause of the nation’s deadliest diseases, it still contributes to a person’s risk of various preventable illnesses. Eating too much of anything won’t end happily. Balance really is the key to living a life as free of disease as possible.

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