A common misconception about diabetes is that it is caused by eating too much sugar. In fact there are a number of risk factors that can increase your chances of developing diabetes.

Firstly, it’s important to understand the difference between the two main types of diabetes: type-1 and type-2.

  • Type-1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition which occurs when the immune system attacks the insulin-producing beta cells found in the pancreas. Diet and lifestyle do not contribute towards type-1 diabetes.
  • Type-2 diabetes is caused by insulin resistance that the body tries to compensate for by producing more insulin. Over time this high level of insulin production can damage the beta cells that make it, leaving the body unable to produce insulin. Scientists are not entirely sure why it develops in some people and not others.

Do sugary foods cause diabetes?

Alone, no. Consuming foods that contain sugar does not cause diabetes. However, eating too much sugar can potentially lead to weight gain. Being overweight is a significant risk factor for type-2 diabetes.

Weight gain can occur when we take in more calories than we spend through activity, but it is important to note that it is not just sugary foods and drinks that cause weight gain.

But if you have diabetes, eating too much sugar can have a negative impact on how you manage your condition.

Eating too much sugar has been identified as a health risk. It can contribute towards tooth decay, heart disease and obesity-related conditions including some cancers.

What foods make diabetes worse?

It is the carbohydrate content of foods that can impact on blood sugar levels, and contribute to or exacerbate diabetes. Carbohydrates are broken down by the body and turned into glucose. The two main sources of carbohydrates are starchy foods (such as bread, potatoes and pasta) and sugar (such as those found in fruits, or added sugars found in sweets and chocolate).

In order to avoid hypers (hyperglycaemia or high blood sugar) or hypos (hypoglycaemia or low blood sugar) diabetes patients will have to pay attention to the amount of carbohydrates they consume, as well as factoring in any exercise they do.

What is the difference between glycemic index and glycemic load?

The glycemic index and glycemic load have been created to help those living with diabetes be able to calculate their carbohydrate intake and plan what foods to eat.  

  • Glycemic index (GI)

    This index shows how carbohydrate-containing foods raise blood sugar levels. Low GI foods will cause a more steady increase in blood sugar, whereas high GI foods can potentially cause a sudden spike. The index starts at zero and goes to 100. Different factors can affect the GI of a food, generally speaking fibre and fat can indicate lower GI foods.
    • High GI - over 70
    • Medium GI - 56-69 inclusive
    • Low GI - 55 or less
  • Glycemic load (GL)

    This is calculated by taking a food’s GI and multiplying by the carbohydrate content of the food (for example: Glycemic Load = GI x Carbohydrate (g) content per portion ÷ 100.) This calculation is said to give a better picture of how long the food is likely to have an impact on blood sugar levels. It can be used by people with diabetes to make decisions about foods in order to maintain control of their blood glucose levels.
    • High GL - over 20
    • Medium GL - 11-19
    • Low GL - 10 or less

What foods should I avoid in order to prevent diabetes?

Type-2 diabetes prevention can start with eating a healthy and well-balanced diet. It does not necessarily mean cutting out all high GI or high GL foods but it can be a good idea to keep a closer eye on what you are eating.

It can be overwhelming to make drastic changes to your diet, especially if carried out all at once. Therefore it can be a good approach to do things over a period of time, so that your body is able to adjust to your new diet.

Low carb diets are favoured by some diabetes patients to control their condition. Low carb diets tend to allow for up to approximately 130g of carbs each day. However, this type of diet should not be attempted without first consulting your usual doctor as it might not be suitable for everyone.

Taking part in exercise can help to regulate your blood sugar levels. Regular physical activity is important for everyone whether you have diabetes, are at risk of developing diabetes or otherwise.

What are other risk factors for type-2 diabetes?

We’ve already mentioned that being overweight can be a prominent risk factor when it comes to type-2 diabetes but there are other factors too. They include:

  1. Age. You are more likely to be diagnosed with type-2 diabetes once you are over the age of 40.
  2. Family history. If you have immediate family members who have been diagnosed with diabetes you are at higher risk.
  3. Ethnicity. People from South Asian, African-Caribbean or Black African descent are at higher risk.
  4. High blood pressure.
  5. Medical history. If you have previously had a heart attack or stroke; or been diagnosed with schizophrenia, depression or bipolar disorder.
  6. Women who have polycystic ovarian syndrome or developed gestational diabetes during pregnancy or have given birth to a baby weighing over 10 pounds.

If you have any concerns or questions about diabetes you should speak to your doctor.