More Sugar in Food Supply = More Diabetes
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Basu said there are likely a number of ways that sugar might contribute directly to the development of diabetes, such as increasing insulin resistance and inflammation.
However, it's important to note that this study doesn't prove that sugar causes diabetes, it only found an association between them. Basu also noted that the study was done on a population level, so it doesn't predict an individual's risk of type 2 diabetes based on the amount of sugar consumed.
The study also wasn't able to distinguish between types of sugar, such as high-fructose corn syrup or natural sugar. Other research has suggested that high-fructose corn syrup, in particular, may be linked to higher rates of diabetes. A recent study in the journal Global Public Health found that the rates of type 2 diabetes were 20 percent greater in countries where the use of high-fructose corn syrup was higher.
For its part, a sugar industry group agreed that the inability to differentiate between sugars was a significant limitation of the study.
"The correlation discussed in this paper relies on lumping together natural sugar with the man-made replacement, high-fructose corn syrup," the Washington, D.C.-based Sugar Association said in a prepared statement. "It is difficult to reconcile the correlation drawn between sugar and diabetes [in this study] given the fact that Americans are consuming far less natural sugar today than we were for most of the last 100 years," they noted.
Meanwhile, Dr. Joel Zonszein, director of the Clinical Diabetes Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, said that type 2 diabetes is a complex disease, and that its development is multi-factorial. "Eating a lot of sugar is not good, especially the sugar substitutes like fructose and sucrose. But, I wouldn't underplay the importance of exercise and caloric intake," Zonszein said.
"And, you have to have individuals who have a genetic abnormality first before you can have type 2 diabetes," he added.
But, if you've been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, Zonszein said one of the most dramatic changes someone can make is to stop drinking sweetened drinks. "When patients can stop drinking sugary drinks, their diabetes improves. It's simple, and it makes a big difference," he said.
Learn more about type 2 diabetes from the American Diabetes Association.