Does Eating Sugar Cause Diabetes?

February 07,2023 |
Woman cutting a slice of strawberry cheesecake.

Sugar is a type of carbohydrate that is naturally found in many foods, including fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. However, it’s also added to a wide range of processed foods and drinks, such as candies, cookies, and soda. While eating natural sugar can have several health benefits, particularly in terms of energy usage, consuming excess amounts and processed sugars can have detrimental effects on your health over the years. In fact, eating too much sugar can contribute to the development of diabetes. However, it’s important to note that diabetes is a complex condition that can be influenced by a variety of factors, including genetics, lifestyle, and environmental factors. Therefore, the relationship between sugar and diabetes is also complex. Here we’ll explore some important information revolving around a popular question, does eating sugar cause diabetes?


Understanding Diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic condition that occurs when the body is unable to regulate blood sugar levels properly. There are two main types of diabetes—type 1 and type 2 diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce any insulin, while in type 2 diabetes, the body does not use insulin properly. Since insulin is a hormone that helps transfer blood sugar to energy sources, untreated diabetes can cause serious health complications, such as heart disease, nerve damage, kidney damage, and more.

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that affects women during pregnancy. Additionally, there are a few lesser-known types of diabetes, which include monogenic diabetes, cystic fibrosis-related diabetes, and diabetes that occurs as a result of pancreatectomy.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder. This means that the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. As a result, the body is incapable of producing any insulin on its own. People living with type 1 diabetes must take insulin in order to regulate their blood sugar levels. Type 1 diabetes is commonly referred to as insulin-dependent diabetes or juvenile diabetes, as it often develops in children or young adults. However, adulthood type 1 diabetes can still develop. Since this is an autoimmune disease, sugar does not increase the risk of its onset or cause type 1 diabetes in any way.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is more heavily influenced by lifestyle choices. However, other factors such as genetics, aging, and certain medical conditions can also contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes. It’s a chronic condition that occurs when the body can make insulin, but then is unable to use it properly or unable to produce enough insulin for your needs. When the body can’t use insulin properly, it’s referred to as insulin resistance. In either situation, sugar starts to build up in the bloodstream and isn’t able to be used for energy. This creates an increase in blood glucose levels, which can lead to various health complications. In order to maintain stable blood sugar levels, an external source of insulin is required—either through oral medications or insulin injections. Since type 2 diabetes is directly related to lifestyle choices, sugar does play a role in its development. The remainder of this article will focus on type 2 diabetes and how sugar affects its onset.


Risk Factors for Diabetes

There are several different factors that can increase your risk for developing diabetes. Typically speaking, type 2 diabetes is associated with lifestyle habits, but genetics may play a role in its onset. Some of the most notable risk factors include the following:

  • Sedentary lifestyles
  • Overweight
  • Obesity
  • Age 45 or older
  • Family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Certain ethnicities (African American, Asian American, Hispanic, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, etc.)
  • Hypertension
  • High fasting blood glucose levels
  • Low HDL
  • Stroke
  • High triglycerides
  • Depression
  • History of gestational diabetes
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
  • Heart disease
  • Acanthosis Nigricans
  • Prediabetes

If you have one or more risk factors for diabetes, it’s important to work with your doctor to stay healthy. You should also be mindful of the amount of sugar that you consume, as unhealthy diet and insulin resistance can result in the development of diabetes over time.


How is Sugar Processed in the Body?

Sugar, or sucrose, is a combination of equal parts glucose and fructose that are connected by a chemical bond. When you eat something with sugar, the body’s digestive enzymes break the two molecules apart in your small intestine. Afterward, both fructose and glucose are absorbed into the blood stream, which raises blood sugar levels and sends a signal to your pancreas that it’s time to release insulin. The insulin molecules bind with glucose and are transported to various cells in your body to be used as energy. Some molecules of fructose are also absorbed by the cells for energy, but most of it passes into your liver. Here, fructose is converted into glucose either as energy or fat. This explains why consuming more sugar than your body needs for immediate energy leads to fat gain.


The Relationship Between Sugar and Diabetes

The relationship between sugar and diabetes has been analyzed and studied for years. Many people assume that the two are directly related—eat too much sugar and you’ll develop diabetes. However, their relationship isn’t so cut and dry. incorporating sugar into your diet doesn’t mean that you’ll wind up with diabetes later in life.

Does Eating Sugar Cause Diabetes?

Eating sugar does not directly cause any type of diabetes, but it can increase your risk. Instead, the cause of diabetes comes from the inflammatory response and insulin resistance the builds up with an increased consumption of sugar over time. Sugar also causes weight gain, which is a risk factor for developing diabetes. Weight gain, insulin resistance, and inflammatory responses, and other risk factors can lead to prediabetes. If prediabetes is not addressed, it can develop into type 2 diabetes between about five to 10 years. To reduce your risk of future health complications, always see your doctor if you experience any signs of prediabetes.

Therefore, although not a direct cause, eating an excessive amount of sugar does increase your risk for type 2 diabetes. For example, drinking sugar-sweetened beverages has been shown to increase your risk for developing type 2 diabetes by nearly 25%. However, since type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder, your consumption of sugar is unrelated to its development.

Do Artificial Sweeteners Have the Same Effect?

With the increased understanding of the negative impact of sugar on the body, artificial sweeteners have grown in popularity. But the question remains, do artificial sweeteners cause the same type of insulin response in the body? Can they lead to type 2 diabetes over time? Not necessarily, but that doesn’t mean you should go overboard with the Sweet N’ Low.

Artificial sweeteners don’t tend to trigger the same type of insulin response—they don’t raise blood sugar levels—and can’t be metabolized in the body, but they can lead to insulin resistance over time. In fact, studies show that consuming one diet soda per day can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes between 25% and 67%. The reason for this is still unknown, so talk to your doctor about sweetener use if you have other risk factors for developing diabetes or are currently living with prediabetes.

Although sugar can have a significant influence on the development of type 2 diabetes, it does not directly cause this condition. Instead, consuming too much sugar can lead to weight gain, inflammation, and a reduced insulin response, which are all risk factors for type 2 diabetes. The relationship between the two are complex and multifaceted, so always talk to your doctor regarding any concerns you may have.

One of the best ways to help reduce your risk for developing type 2 diabetes is to practice healthy habits, see your doctor regularly, and be aware of your risk factors. By taking a proactive approach to your health, you’ll support stable blood sugar levels, maintain a healthy weight, and help lower your chances of diabetes. If you do happen to develop diabetes, work closely with your doctor to create an effective management plan. To help, Byram Healthcare has a range of continuous blood glucose monitors. We also offer diabetes support and educational materials to give you everything you need for comprehensive care.