Can Eating Too Much Sugar Cause Diabetes?
March 28, 2023
You may have wondered if eating too many sweets can cause diabetes. The simple answer is no. But there’s more to know before giving into those cravings for cookies, candy and sweetened drinks.
Because type 2 diabetes is not always linked to obesity and having diabetes means blood sugar levels are consistently too high.
“If you’re not overweight, eating extra sweets probably presents little risk of causing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes,” says University Hospitals endocrinologist Revital Gorodeski Baskin, MD. “However, prediabetes is very closely linked to diet and weight. If you consume high sugar foods on a daily basis, it’s likely you’ll gain excessive weight and develop insulin resistance – the first sign of prediabetes.”
Sweets and Insulin Resistance
When you consume sugar – including complex carbohydrates which are broken down into sugar for energy – the pancreas produces insulin. Insulin is the hormone required to move glucose from the bloodstream into the body’s cells and metabolize it for energy. If you eat sweets throughout the day, the pancreas works continuously to produce enough insulin.
“Insulin is a ‘building’ hormone: when it is present, the body is always building,” explains Dr. Gorodeski Baskin. “But the body requires time to rest from building to allow for breakdown. Continual high insulin levels cause the body to become resistant and over time, insulin becomes completely ineffective.”
The Effects of Insulin Resistance
Being diagnosed with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes indicates that you have developed a state of insulin resistance. If the body resists the effects of insulin or doesn’t make enough of it, glucose stays in the bloodstream. High blood sugar levels interrupt normal body system responses and healing, and can cause nerve damage which can result in vision or limb loss.
Meanwhile, excess sugar not used for energy is stored as fat. This leads to weight gain and further insulin resistance. This results in type 2 diabetes, fatty liver, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease and other metabolic abnormalities. These are all signs and symptoms of metabolic syndrome, a consequence of prolonged excessive sugar consumption.
Are Fruit Sugars Okay?
While the sugar in cookies, cakes and sweetened beverages is most often linked with excessive sugar intake, the sugar in fruit can contribute to insulin resistance if eaten in excess. But because fruits offer the benefits of fiber and many nutrients, they’re a good alternative to sugary snacks and beverages.
While all fruits are healthy, when comparing sugar content, berries are lower in sugar content than fruits such as watermelon, grapes and pineapple. The key is to eat fruit in moderation to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Although artificial sweeteners don’t raise blood sugar levels, they’ve been found to cause an insulin response. The exact mechanism is not yet understood. However, it’s important to allow for periods of fasting throughout the day to achieve lower blood sugar and insulin levels.
If you drink an afternoon diet soda in between meals, blood sugar levels won’t rise measurably, but an insulin rush will keep the body building and, over time, can lead to insulin resistance.
Moderation Is Key
While eating lots of sugar occasionally doesn’t directly cause diabetes in a normal weight, healthy person, too much sugar can certainly be detrimental. Portion control and moderation are key. If you’re consuming too much sugar on a daily or hourly basis, you will most likely gain weight and develop metabolic syndrome.
“If you like sugary treats, consume them in moderation,” advises Dr. Gorodeski Baskin.