If there were any connection between sugar and diabetes, surely, the American Dietetic Association, or the American Diabetes Association, or even the World Health Organization would be the first to point it out. But, these medical associations, using supposedly good scientific research, make the claim that sugar, as part of a complete diet, has no connection to diabetes.
But, before you reach for that soda or doughnut, you might want to take a little closer look at exactly what they are saying when they say that sugar is safe. Because these associations are making a mistake that you don’t want to make.
No matter which of these associations you pick, they are all saying about the same thing, and it goes something like this:
- Sugar does not cause diabetes. Sugar is not unique in our diet as there are many other foods that act identical to sugar in our diet. Foods (such as grains) will raise your blood sugar similar to eating straight sugar.
I’m going to have to agree with them on their second point: there are many foods that will increase your blood sugar in the same way sugar does. But where I and these medical associations disagree is to conclude that both sugar and other carbohydrates are safe to eat.
Uncovering a link between sugar and diabetes is a bit difficult, but let me show you what the latest research has discovered and see if you are on the side of thinking that sugar has nothing to do with diabetes or not.
Diabetes Sugar Connection
To find out if sugar has anything to do with diabetes, we first need to understand how many people have diabetes and then understand how this has changed over time.
When we look back over 100 years ago, we find that less than 1 percent of the population had diabetes. That number has changed dramatically. It is now estimated that three out of every 10 people in the United States will get diabetes some time in their lives. That means around 1/3 of the people reading this article will have diabetes.
What else has changed in the same time period? Well, sugar consumption for one. In 1900, we all ate about 1 pound of sugar a year. It is estimated that you and I eat in between 1/4 to 1/2 a pound of sugar a DAY. We know eat the same amount of sugar our ancestors ate in a year in about two to four days.
What happens when we put those two facts together? A large rise in the amount of sugar we eat and a large number of people with diabetes. Are they related? That is the million dollar question. Let’s look a little further.
Learning from the Glycemic Index
What is the glycemic index? It is the perfect tool to understanding how different foods act in your body. It used to be that people simply assumed how foods would change our blood sugar based on how much carbohydrate the food contained along with how much fiber. This, it turns out, if not very useful; for example, we used to think that eating brown rice would not raise our blood sugar as much as eating white rice, and this is true, but not as much as you would think.
Eventually, a brilliant scientist decided to actually test how brown rice, white rice, and other foods affect our blood sugar. The results are something called the glycemic index.
It works this way: Scientists check a volunteer’s blood sugar and then they feed them one food; they then check there blood sugar to see how much it has changed after eating that food. The result of all these studies is a chart of foods (called the glycemic index) that places foods into high, medium, and low glycemic sections depending on how much they cause our blood sugar to rise.
Here is what we have learned from the Glycemic Index:
Yes, white rice will cause your blood sugar to increase, but so will brown rice; there is actually not much difference between the two. Secondly, we have learned that there are many foods that can make your blood sugar increase every bit as much (if not more) than white sugar. For example: rice cakes and white bread will make your blood sugar go higher than eating white sugar.
Glycemic Index Problems
The glycemic index has helped us a lot to understand which foods increase our blood sugar, but while helping us, it has created a problem we would have never guessed would happen.
The problem is this: when scientists discovered that many foods we eat act identical to sugar, they had two choices. The first is that they could say that both sugar and carbohydrates that act like sugar are a problem and you should avoid them, or they could say that since many foods act identical to sugar, sugar is not really a problem. Let’s see which path they chose:
- Sugar-containing foods can be substituted for other carbohydrate or, if added, adequately covered with insulin or another glucose-lowering medication…Substantial evidence demonstrates that dietary sugar does not increase glycemia (high blood sugar) more than isocaloric amounts of starch. Sugar alcohols and nonnutritive sweeteners are safe when consumed within the daily intake levels established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
This quote is from the American Diabetes Association and it shows that the medical associations have made the choice to say that sugar is really not a problem. They chose wrong. Your body cannot handle sugars or carbohydrates that act like sugar in your body. These associations want you to believe that it is natural for humans to eat such highly processed foods and they are wrong. Sugars and carbohydrates that act like sugars in your body are harmful and can lead to diabetes.
There are some scientific studies that link sugar to diabetes. These studies link insulin insensitivity (a pre-diabetic state) to how much sugar we eat every day. The connection between insulin insensitivity is especially true for high fructose corn syrup. Currently, there are not enough scientific studies to prove the connection, at least not enough to convince doctors and medical associations, but new studies are coming out every day.
What is the Truth?
Is there enough evidence to blame sugar for diabetes? Another place we can look is at people who don’t eat any sugar or carbohydrates that act like sugar.
There are a few cultures that still exist today where people avoid most grains and sugars. When we look at how healthy, we find that diabetes is a very rare disease. Unlike us, when these people sit down to eat, their blood sugar is not sent skyrocketing because they are eating low-glycemic foods.
Currently there is not enough evidence for doctors and medical associations to say that sugar causes diabetes, but there may never be enough for them. If you add in the evidence from the changes to the amount of sugars we are eating, the growing number of scientific studies that shows sugar can impact sugar control, to seeing the traditional cultures are almost free from the disease, you have to start wondering if sugar is associated with diabetes.
Diabetes causes much pain and suffering in the world and the numbers of people who get this disease are growing every day. Choose not to be one of those statistics and avoid the disease by avoiding sugars and foods that act like sugars in your body.
Dr. Scott Olson is a naturopathic doctor, an expert in natural medicine and the author of the book Sugarettes. You can read his blog at http://olsonnd.com/.
Dr. Scott Olson
Dr. Scott Olson is a naturopathic doctor, an expert in natural medicine and the author of the book Sugarettes.
You can read his blog at http://olsonnd.com/