Does Sugar Cause Diabetes?

Sugar has no part of causing Type 1 diabetes. That form of diabetes has multiple causes, probably including genetics and certainly including elements we don't yet understand.

Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, frequently occurs in overweight patients. In fact, the most common comorbidity in diabetes is obesity.

But consuming sugar is not the only cause of obesity, and consuming sugar as a limited part of a well-designed diabetes meal plan will not cause harm to the diabetic patient.

Sugar Is a Carbohydrate

Sugar is a carbohydrate. So is starch and so is fiber. While sugar and starch tend to digest and hit the blood stream quickly, fiber takes longer through the digestive process, thereby causing a more muted effect on blood sugar levels.

The recommended diet for diabetics encourages food from all food groups. The trick is balance. With a controlled amount of carbohydrates as part of a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables and proteins, along with a limited quantity of fat, blood sugar levels can be maintained in a healthy way.

Sugar as Part of the Diabetic Diet

The trick with including sugar in the diet is to make sure you are getting the biggest nutrition bang you can from it. The diabetic diet is primarily counting and balancing carbs, so that the quantity of carbs consumed is fairly even throughout the day and keeps blood sugar levels in balance.

Those who are accustomed to following a diabetic diet have become proficient in making healthy substitutions. For instance, instead of drinking an 8 ounce glass of soda, with its 24 grams of sugar and no nutritional value, the substitution of an 8 ounce glass of low fat or skim milk will bring calcium, vitamin D and protein along with its 12 grams of natural sugars.

Fruit instead of dessert does not mean that sugar is eliminated from the diet. After all, many fruits contain a substantial amount of natural sugars. But they also contain fiber and nutrients, which most dessert items don't.

Refined Sugars

The body requires glucose (sugar) for energy. The brain, especially, relies on sugar to provide energy to cells. Healthy foods containing reasonable amounts of natural sugars meet these needs without negatively impacting blood glucose levels.

On the other hand, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose and sucrose, invert sugar, saccharides - all are processed forms of natural sugars and are added to prepared and processed foods to make them sweeter or to prolong shelf life. These are the sugars that are increasingly thought to be the culprits in elevated blood sugar levels, and the damage that results.

There is a statistical study detailed in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that correlates the increasing consumption of refined carbohydrate (corn syrup) and declining consumption of fiber with the increasing trend of type 2 diabetes diagnoses in the US during the 20th century.
Both fiber and corn syrup are carbohydrates, which lends credence to the idea that the type and quality of carbohydrates consumed matters more than the quantity.

Sources: Livestrong and American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

Image credit: Uwe Hermann

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