Does Sugar Really Cause Diabetes?
Updated: Jul 5, 2022
No, sugar doesn't cause diabetes. Although we often hear it said that sugar should not be overused as it will lead to diabetes, this statement is not true.
First of all, there are several types of diabetes, including 3 main ones. On the one hand, there is type 1 diabetes which is an autoimmune disease, usually diagnosed in childhood. Then, type 2, which is the most common, is that our cells no longer respond effectively to insulin (one of the hormones that regulate blood sugar levels). The last is usually temporary and develops during pregnancy, called gestational diabetes. When we hear that sugar causes diabetes, we are implying type 2 diabetes. The two main causes of type 2 diabetes are obesity and genetic predisposition. When it comes to obesity, sugar should not be singled out. Excess energy (whether from sugar, fat or protein) compared to our needs, a low level of physical activity, too little sleep and stress are some of the factors that contribute to the development of obesity. On the other hand, it is true that if we consume too much sugary foods and develop obesity, the risk of suffering from type 2 diabetes is increased.
Obesity and genetic predispositions to diabetes can cause our cells to no longer respond adequately to insulin (one of the hormones that regulates blood sugar levels). So, blood sugar level varies inadequately, which can lead to a multitude of complications if this disease is poorly controlled. Common symptoms before diagnosis are frequent urination, an intensified feeling of thirst and an intensified feeling of hunger, unintentional weight loss, blurred vision, fatigue, etc. (CDC). Diabetes is diagnosed by the doctor using blood glucose and, or with a blood test (with glycated hemoglobin). Thanks to a balanced diet adapted to diabetes and certain medications, the risks of complications related to diabetes are reduced.
Even though sugar does not cause diabetes, foods that contain a high amount of sugar such as candy bars and pastries should not be eaten in too large amounts, as they generally have low nutritional value. Finally, when we have excess fat (BMI>25), it is possible to decrease our risk of developing type 2 diabetes with weight loss and physical activity (Hemmingsen et al, 2017).
See you next time,
Karine Drouin RD, dietitian
Bellou V, Belbasis L, Tzoulaki I, Evangelou E (2018) Risk factors for type 2 diabetes mellitus: An exposure-wide umbrella review of meta-analyses. PLoS ONE 13(3): e0194127. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0194127
CDC. (n.d.). Diabetes Symptoms. Retrouvé le 4 Avril 2021 au https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/symptoms.html
Chevalier, S. (2019). Lecture 18: Diabetes Intro-2019 [PowerPoint slides]. McGill University : Clinical Nutrition 1
Hemmingsen B, Gimenez-Perez G, Mauricio D, Roqué I Figuls M, Metzendorf MI, Richter B. (Décembre, 2017). Diet, physical activity or both for prevention or delay of type 2 diabetes mellitus and its associated complications in people at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes mellitus. Cochrane Database Syst Rev.;12(12):CD003054. https://doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003054.pub4.