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Can Too Much Sugar Cause Diabetes?

There is an indirect link between the sweet substance and the condition

female healthcare provider speaking with patient in medical setting

Sugar — it’s all around us and in a lot of foods we like to eat.

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You probably know cakes, pies, cookies and other treats are laden with the sweet substance.

But it may be harder to determine if certain foods like barbeque sauce, breakfast cereal and dairy have a lot of added sugar.

Can you get diabetes from eating too much sugar?

“Sugar doesn’t directly cause diabetes, but it plays a part,” says diabetes educator Sue Cotey, RN.

She explains the relationship between sugar and diabetes and how you can reduce how much sugar you eat.

Does sugar cause diabetes?

The answer isn’t so straightforward.

“Sugar indirectly increases your risk of getting diabetes,” says Cotey. “For example, if you consume a lot of sugar, your pancreas responds by making more insulin because your body wants to keep your blood sugar (also known as blood glucose) levels in a normal range. If you think about that long term, those extra calories lead to weight gain.”

Having overweight/obesity is one of the risk factors for developing Type 2 diabetes.

“Over time, your pancreas is going to more or less start to get fatigued because it’s trying to keep up with the demand of keeping your blood sugar low,” explains Cotey.

Other diabetes risk factors include:

  • Your family history.
  • Your age.
  • Your race.

You may experience symptoms like a dry mouth, increased thirst, frequent urination, fatigue and blurred vision with diabetes.

Why does sugar get a bad rap?

It boils down to misconceptions such as thinking that all sugar is bad. For example, Cotey says that people frequently ask her about the sugar in fruits.

“They’ll say they’re afraid to eat fruit because it breaks down to sugar,” she shares. “We have to educate people about the other things that come from fruit like fiber and vitamins. Fiber is such an important thing in our diet. And you don’t get that from meat — you get that only from plants. Fiber helps slow down the rise in your blood sugar. It helps you feel full and it helps with regulating your bowels.”

Types of sugars

Sugar is considered a simple carbohydrate, which causes your blood sugar to spike.

Some foods contain natural sugars:

  • Fructose. This kind of sugar is found in fruit.
  • Lactose. Dairy products contain this type of sugar.

Other foods contain added sugar. Some common names for added sugar include:

  • Sucrose.
  • High-fructose corn syrup.
  • Corn syrup.
  • Honey.
  • Maple syrup.
  • Maltose.
  • Dextrose.
  • Glucose.
  • Agave nectar.
  • Brown rice syrup.
  • Malt syrup.
  • Beet sugar.
  • Barley malt.
  • Maltodextrin.

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So how can you know how much sugar is in something you want to eat? Read the food label — and look for the different aliases that sugar goes by. Another pro tip? Many times, there’s more than one type of sugar listed, so while it may appear that an item doesn’t contain a lot of added sugar, there may be three or four different versions of sugar used.

What causes diabetes?

In addition to Type 2 diabetes — the most common form of diabetes — there are other kinds of diabetes like gestational diabetes and Type 3c diabetes.

If you have too much glucose in your bloodstream, it can cause diabetes, regardless of type. But the reason why your glucose levels are high may differ. Some causes include:

  • Insulin resistance.
  • Autoimmune disease.
  • Hormonal imbalances.
  • Pancreatic damage.
  • Genetic mutations.
  • Long-term use of certain medications.

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How to prevent diabetes

Some forms of diabetes like Type 1 diabetes can’t be prevented, but you can lower your risk of prediabetes, Type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes by doing the following:

  • Eat healthy foods. Options like eggs, nuts, meat, fish, vegetables and fruit don’t contain any added sugar. And drink water instead of soda, sports drinks and coffees loaded with sugar.
  • Focus on exercise. When you’re active (even just walking for five to 10 minutes every couple of hours), you increase your insulin sensitivity.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Having obesity not only increases your risk of Type 2 diabetes, but it also raises your chances of heart disease and cancer. You can work with your healthcare provider to determine the best weight for you.
  • Manage your stress. Your mental health plays a role in your physical health in many ways. When you’re stressed, your blood sugar levels rise and over time, it can lead to Type 2 diabetes.
  • Limit alcohol. Like many of the foods and drinks you may consume, certain alcoholic drinks like beer and cocktails may contain added sugar and carbs and may be high in calories. All those factors can raise your blood sugar levels.
  • Prioritize sleep. If you’re getting fewer than seven hours of sleep per night, this can also raise your blood sugar levels.
  • Quit smoking. If you smoke, it can affect your insulin resistance — and that can lead to Type 2 diabetes.

“The No. 1 thing you can do is eliminate or reduce the amount of high-calorie, high-sugar beverages you consume — think soda, energy drinks, flavored coffees like lattes,” informs Cotey. “That’s the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to lowering your risk of diabetes.”

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