Can eating sugar cause diabetes?

Eating too much of anything causes weight gain, which leads to obesity. Being overweight can be the trigger that causes type 2 diabetes to show itself. Whether the excess pounds are from eating candy or bagels or meat loaf makes little difference. Eating too much sugar doesn’t cause diabetes. But eating too much sugar isn’t healthy for anyone. It can cause tooth decay and with the increase in calories, lead to excess pounds. Sweets contain lots of carbohydrates and sometimes fat, which may fill you up without giving you much nutritional benefit. Having a candy bar before lunch makes it easier to pass up the vegetable soup.
Brian Tanzer
Nutrition & Dietetics

This is a common misconception. Eating sugar does not cause diabetes. Your body, particularly your brain requires sugar as a source of energy. Type 1 or insulin-dependent diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the body's immune system destroys the cells of the pancreas that secrete hormones responsible for regulating blood sugar levels. This requires that a person receive daily insulin injections. Insulin resistance characterizes type 2 diabetes. The person with Type 2 diabetes is typically obese or over the age of 55. More body fat makes the body's cells less responsive to insulin and this results in more sugar (glucose) staying in the blood and less able to get into body cells to be used for energy. Treatment for type 2 diabetes includes different types of medications along with diet and daily vigorous exercise.

Even though eating sugar doesn't cause diabetes, excess intake of sugar and carbohydrates in general can cause complications in individuals already diagnosed with diabetes. Regardless of the type of diabetes, one who has been diagnosed should follow a healthy diet by eliminating refined carbohydrates such as white bread, white pasta, white rice, cakes, cookies, crackers, etc. Stick with high fiber carbs such as whole wheat, brown rice, oatmeal, fruit (not fruit juice), etc. lots of colorful vegetables, lean proteins such as fish (wild salmon, Alaskan black cod and sardines), chicken and lean meat.

Also fiber and protein rich beans (kidney beans, lentils, chick peas), Greek yogurt. Drink lots of water, avoid soda regular and diet!  If one avoids refined sugar and includes, high fiber carbs, lean proteins, low fat dairy, etc., includes 30 minutes/day of vigorous exercise and maintains a health body weight and low body fat percentage the risk for diabetes is dramatically reduced. If one already has diabetes, following these recommendations will help one maintain their daily blood sugar levels within the health range.

Jessica Crandall
Nutrition & Dietetics

Sugar comes in many forms such as fruits, breads, pastas, candy, and soda. Consuming increased amounts of high sugar foods (candy, soda, white bread, sugary coffee drinks, or chips) is stored as fat which often can causes weight gain. Taking in more than what the body needs for fuel will cause the body to store it as fat. Choosing whole grains such as whole grain pastas, breads, crackers, or baked chips is a better way to take in some sugars because they stay with your stomach longer. Weight gain can then lead to the development of type II diabetes. Type II diabetes is the body’s way of showing it is not able to regulate blood sugar levels in the body as effectively at the heavier weight. Therefore, eating sugar in excessive amounts is not directly related to the diagnosis of diabetes but may cause weight gain which may lead to type II diabetes diagnosis.

More related answers: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Amy Jamieson-Petonic
Nutrition & Dietetics

Sugar itself does not cause diabetes... There are many medical factors that play into whether or not someone is affected by this condition. There are many lifestyle factors that can limit your risk for diabetes. These include a healthy diet, at least 30 minutes of daily activity, and not smoking. A certified diabetes educator is the specialist in this area. They can answer many questions about this condition

Eating sugar does not cause diabetes, although eating a diet high in sugar can lead to being overweight. Lifestyle factors such as being overweight, along with not exercising enough, plus genetics are the causes of type 2 diabetes. The cause of type 1 diabetes is not well understood, but it happens when the immune system attacks the cells that produce insulin in the pancreas. Sugar has nothing to do with this.
Samantha Heller, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics

No, eating sugar per se does not cause diabetes. The primary risk factor for getting type 2 diabetes is being overweight or obese. You can dodge diabetes by maintaining a healthy weight and eating healthy foods such as:

  • whole grains: quinoa, whole wheat pasta, brown rice
  • vegetables: all vegetables are great for you
  • beans: chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans (all beans are good too)
  • soy: tofu, edamame
  • low or nonfat dairy: cottage cheese, yogurt, milk
  • nuts: unsalted almonds, cashews, peanuts (in small portions. they are high in calories!)
  • healthy oils: olive, canola, sesame

Exercise at least 30 minutes most days of the week. Walking is a great way to get started.

Avoid sugar sweetened beverages such as sodas, sweetened iced teas and fruit drinks. Choose water, seltzers, teas, herbal teas, low sodium tomato juice. 

You can have a sweet treat once in a while, just not all the time!

Contrary to popular thought, sugar doesn't necessarily cause diabetes mellitus. Consuming too much sugar can weight management challenging, but eating sugar won't cause you to gain weight as long as you don't exceed the number of calories that you need daily. However, it is easy to overeat high-calorie, sugary foods and quickly add excess calories to your diet. Added sugars are considered "empty calories" as they add calories to food but add few or no nutrients.

When it comes to sugar, research has found that eating sucrose doesn't cause a rise in a person's blood glucose level to any greater extent than does eating starch, so avoidance of sugar isn't necessary. However, being overweight increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and because weight management is a concern, there isn't room for a lot of sweets and treats in a diabetic diet (or anyone's diet, for that matter).

The American Diabetes Association recommends that individuals with diabetes consume a diet that includes a combination of predominantly high-fiber carbohydrates from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, along with low-fat milk, adequate amounts of lean protein sources, and unsaturated fats.

This is a common misconception. There are several types of diabetes, and none of them is a direct result of eating sugar. While eating sugar doesn’t cause diabetes, eating large amounts of sugar and other rich, fatty foods, can cause weight gain. Most people who develop Type II diabetes are overweight. If you eat too much sugar (or anything else) and you become overweight, that can cause diabetes. While there are about ten risk factors for developing Type II diabetes (the most common type of diabetes), the two strongest are (1) family history of diabetes and (2) being overweight.
Laura Motosko, MSEd, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics
Indirectly eating too much sugar may result in obesity which can lead to insulin resistance and type two diabetes. Long-term healthy weight maintenance for vitality and to prevent chronic disease is best achieved with a steady nutrient dense diet plan including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats such as olive oil, proteins including lean meat, nuts, legumes, beans, soy or dairy and reduced saturated fat, sodium and sugar. Strive for physical activity daily in which you break a sweat for at least 30 minutes. If you are unsure if you are healthy enough for exercise, check with your doctor. As a rule you should be able to talk while you walk. If you are out of breath and unable to talk while exercising, decrease the intensity.
Dr. Jack Merendino, MD
Endocrinology Diabetes & Metabolism
Don’t be misled into thinking that your diabetes came about from eating too much sugar. Although certain types of diets can increase the risk of diabetes, the condition really develops because of a glitch in the way your body produces or handles the hormone insulin. To understand diabetes, you have to understand insulin -- how it’s supposed to regulate blood sugar and what happens when it doesn’t.
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Michaela Ballmann
Nutrition & Dietetics
It’s a common idea that sugar causes diabetes since a main issue for people with diabetes is controlling their blood sugar, but this is not the case.  Though the actual cause of diabetes is not precisely known, the problem lies in the pancreas, specifically in the beta cells that produce insulin.  In Type 2 Diabetes (the most common form affecting 346 million people around the world), beta cell dysfunction combined with insulin resistance leads to high blood glucose, also known as hyperglycemia.  In addition to following a balanced, carbohydrate-controlled diet, medications and injectable insulin can help maintain glucose levels within the normal range.
Though sugar consumption itself doesn’t cause diabetes, people who are overweight, sedentary, and have family members with diabetes, are more likely to develop it.  If you have these risk factors or you have been diagnosed with prediabetes, it would be beneficial to start making changes to you diet and lifestyle to prevent any or further development.
Judy Caplan
Nutrition & Dietetics
This is more complicated then it sounds! Type 2 diabetes can come from complications of being overweight. Obesity and overweight can come from ingesting too many calories on a regular basis. Too many refined carbohydrates, like sugar, can technically accelerate the process leading to insulin resistance. An optimal weight, a healthy diet, and regular exercise is your best defense against developing diabetes.
Deb Kennedy, PhD
Nutrition & Dietetics
When you add up the amount of added sugar in one's diet, it comes out to equal about a child's weight in sugar every year, and with the clients I have worked with who are adults, about 150 pounds a year.  Our pancreas is not designed to handle that tremendous load of sugar and will over time konk out, and/or our cells will have a hard time, too, thus leading to type 2 diabetes.  If you want to know how much added sugar is in your diet try this added sugar calculator;  it will add up how much added sugar you consume in a day and year.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.