Can You Get Diabetes from Eating Too Much Sugar?

Sugary Foods

December 14, 2021

Clinical Contributors to this story:
Ayushi Dixit, M.D.

How does a person get diabetes? One common belief is that you can develop diabetes from eating too much sugar.

“It’s not as simple as eating too much sugar can cause diabetes,” says Ayushi Dixit, M.D., an endocrinologist at Pascack Valley Medical Center. Since glucose levels are elevated in diabetes, it is assumed that eating sugary foods causes the disease. However, type 2 diabetes, the most common form, is a combination of insulin resistance and pancreatic failure.

What to Know About Glucose and Diabetes

“Type 2 diabetes is a disease in which your body has difficulty responding to its own insulin production [insulin resistance]. To try to overcome insulin resistance, your pancreas will produce more insulin, and when it can no longer keep up, your blood glucose rises,” says Dr. Dixit.

Glucose is an energy source that our body needs and that we get through the food we eat. In diabetics, elevated glucose levels can affect other organs. The most common complications of uncontrolled diabetes include heart disease, nerve damage or peripheral neuropathy, diabetic retinopathy, which can lead to blindness, and chronic kidney disease, which can lead to kidney failure or dialysis.

“For people who don’t have diabetes, glucose levels usually remain stable,” says Dr. Dixit. A person who does not have diabetes should not experience a sugar spike after having soda or a piece of cake. “This is because your pancreas is working normally and is able to effectively manage it.”

The majority of diabetes medications act by trying to keep blood glucose levels within specific ranges. In type 1 diabetes—where the pancreas does not make insulin at all—since the defect is in insulin production, we treat patients with insulin. Patients with type 2 diabetes—which occurs because of insulin resistance—have several options for therapy since most of them are still producing insulin. They are often started on oral medications before being placed on insulin.

How to Avoid Developing Type 2 Diabetes

“To avoid type 2 diabetes, the best thing you can do is keep your weight within a normal range and eat a clean balanced diet,” says Dr. Dixit. What’s normal depends on your height and age. It’s important to keep your body mass index within a healthy range, which is between 18.5 and 24.9, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

As far as nutrition, there is no specific diet solution, but it’s important to maintain a healthy weight and watch your carbohydrate intake. “If you are concerned about your risk for diabetes and are overweight, changing your diet can help you lose weight and lower your risk for developing diabetes,” Dr. Dixit says, offering these tips for lowering your risk of type 2 diabetes:

  • Lose weight if you are overweight or obese. Just a 5 or 10 percent weight loss can make a big difference in your diabetes risk and overall health.
  • Avoid foods that are high in sugar and refined carbohydrates. Instead, prioritize non-starchy fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and lots of water.
  • Exercise regularly. Work with your doctor to figure out what might work best for you.
  • Don’t smoke. According to the Food and Drug Administration, smokers are 30–40 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than nonsmokers.
  • Keep your food portions in check. In today’s world, food portion sizes are bigger than ever, making it easy to overeat. Pay attention to how much food you consume at each meal. Invest in a food scale, measuring cups and spoons to help you figure out appropriate food portions

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

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