The Connection Between Type 2 Diabetes and Ultra-Processed Foods

May 03,2019 |

When it comes to diabetes, we’re constantly learning new information. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that occurs when your pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin for your body to function properly. The cause isn’t completely known, but genetics play a major role in the development of type 1 diabetes. The onset of type 1 diabetes tends to be in younger years but can occur at any time throughout your life. However, in terms of prevalence, type 2 diabetes is much more common. Type 2 diabetes is a bit different from type 1 and is more linked to environmental factors and lifestyle choices. This is both good and bad news. It means that you have some power over the prevention of type 2 diabetes, but also means you’re more at risk if you make unhealthy choices. Type 2 diabetes accounts for over 90% of all cases of diabetes and occurs when your body becomes resistant to insulin.

In recent years, it’s been proven that there is a strong link between type 2 diabetes and obesity. As you gain large amounts of weight, your body stops responding to insulin and your cells don’t get the glucose they need for cellular energy. This imbalance doesn’t immediately mean you’ve developed type 2 diabetes, but it’s a sign that your body needs some help. When you lose weight and eat a healthy diet, your chances of developing type 2 diabetes drop drastically. The weight loss and healthy food help to relieve added stress on your pancreas so it can do its job properly. As more information comes out, we continue to find ways to help reduce risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes. In this article, we’ll explore the link between type 2 diabetes and ultra-processed foods.

What is Ultra-Processed Food?

In today’s world, we’re constantly bombarded with choices at the supermarket, restaurants, and online. When given the option, a lot of people tend to choose for food that is easy, fast, and cheap. Unfortunately, this means that we end up consuming processed and ultra-processed foods regularly. While having this kind of food every once and a while isn’t a big deal, when your primary diet constantly revolves around it, it becomes a problem. One of the underlying issues is that a lot of people aren’t 100% sure what processed food really is and many more don’t even realize that there’s such a thing as “ultra-processed.”

Processed foods, by definition, are simply foods that have been altered in some way from their original form.2 That means that anything that’s been canned, pasteurized, dried, or even refrigerated is considered a processed food.2 By this definition, a majority of the foods we eat are “processed.” The more altered something is, the more processed it is. This is why many people say that if you want to eat a healthy diet, you need to eat a diet filled with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. However, technically, almost all of our food is considered processed, so it’s time to make the distinction about the processed food that’s relatively health and the processed food that causes major health risks.

Due to the inherent definition of processed foods, a term has been developed to categorize those that are healthy vs. those that are not. Ultra-processed foods are therefore the foods that are directly linked to many of the health problems we’ve been warned about, such as obesity, cancer, heart disease, and more. They use a number of chemical processes that eliminate the underlying nutritional value of things and add flavoring agents, emulsifiers, artificial sweeteners, artificial coloring, and many other additives.4

To make it easier to understand, ultra-processed foods are what the general public has already thought of as processed foods.2 They’re items that have long lists of ingredients that don’t occur naturally. Things with preservatives and artificial flavors are ultra-processed and still just as bad for us as ever. However, recently a new link has been made: the link between type 2 diabetes and ultra-processed foods.

How Ultra-Processed Foods Raise the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

In late 2019, a study was published that connected ultra-processed foods to type 2 diabetes more heavily than we’ve seen in the past. The research suggests that a mere 10% increase of ultra-processed foods in your diet is linked to a 15% higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes.1 To better understand these results, it’s important to make sure that you take the time to understand the study.

  • Understanding the Study

The cohort study consisted of about 100,000 people and was conducted over the course of 10 years to determine long-term effects.3 The dietary intake data was collected using repeated 24-hour dietary records that worked to register every participant’s “normal” consumption of over 3,500 different types of food items.3 Food intake was measured based on a proportional scale and was calculated in grams per day.1 All of the food they consumed was categorized based on how processed it was. At the end of the study, researchers found that absolute type 2 diabetes rates were lower for people who consumed less ultra-processed foods.1 As mentioned above, people who had a 10% increase of ultra-processed foods in their diet had a 15% greater chance of developing type 2 diabetes.1 This translates to roughly 4 portions of processed food per day.1

These results were even higher if participants were obese or didn’t exercise regularly. The reason that researchers speculate this increase is because of the high amounts of fat and sugar that’s in processed foods—both of which are known contributors to type 2 diabetes. Since we know that exercise has a direct effect on diabetes, it makes sense that participants who lived a more sedentary lifestyle, and ate high levels of ultra-processed foods, were more at risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

While the results of this study cannot be conclusively regarded as a direct causation, it does shed light on how our daily habits impact our health. More studies need to be done to confirm this relationship, but until then it’s worth making some lifestyle changes. Since ultra-processed foods dominate Western diets so heavily, you need to be mindful of your consumption. To put it into perspective, in some countries, ultra-processed foods make up about 60% of daily food consumption!4

It’s easy to consume excessive amounts of ultra-processed foods if you aren’t paying attention to what you’re eating, but the risks simply aren’t worth it. Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition that requires constant management and lifestyle adaptions. It is much easier to live a healthy lifestyle without diabetes than it is to manage your lifestyle with diabetes, which is why we recommend limited your intake of ultra-processed foods, regardless of your other risk factors. Instead, try to focus on eating a diet rich in whole foods and limiting your consumption of added salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats.

As always, if you have further questions or want to learn how you can make the necessary lifestyle changes to reduce your chances of developing type 2 diabetes, or other chronic illnesses, talk to your doctor today.


Diabetes, whether it’s type 1, type 2, or gestational diabetes means that you’ll need to monitor your blood glucose levels regularly to stay healthy. To help reduce your chances of developing type 2 diabetes, it’s important to live an active lifestyle, eat nutritionally dense foods, and avoid ultra-processed products. If you have any questions or plan to make major changes to your current habits, always talk to your doctor before doing so. If you need any blood glucose meters or continuous glucose monitoring devices, Byram Healthcare has you covered. We’re proud to provide you with the latest technology in diabetes management, including continuous glucose monitoring. We’ll work with your insurance provider and doctor to ensure you’re supported from start to finish, maximizing your coverage while minimizing out-of-pocket expenses. For more information and added support on diabetes management, sign up for Byram Healthcare’s Caring Touch At Home Program. We focus on providing exceptional customer service and top-of-the-line brand name products while lowering your overhead costs. The Caring Touch At Home Program combines convenience, affordability, and choice to deliver extensive service and support to everyone living with diabetes. 

For added support, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our Diabetes Center of Excellence—a one source, total solution for your diabetes care. Our Center of Excellence combines high quality products with clinical and educational research to help you better manage your condition, support all of your needs, and live a long, healthy life.