Does sugar contribute to the development of diabetes?



Consumption of sugar, added sugars, or total sugars has not been shown to cause Type 2 Diabetes. Instead, current evidence suggests that any association between sugars and Type 2 Diabetes is mediated through the contribution of calories from sugars, which like other calorie sources, can lead to weight gain if consumed in excess (1, 2). 

Epidemiological studies suggest an association between drinking large amounts of sugars-sweetened beverages and an increased risk of Type 2 Diabetes; however, this may be due to an overall unhealthy lifestyle pattern (e.g. these diet and lifestyle patterns also tend to have higher energy intakes, diets higher in fat and sodium, and lack of physical activity) (3, 4).  

Overall, avoiding consumption of excess calories, from all sources, including sugars, can assist in controlling weight gain, which is a risk factor for Type 2 Diabetes.

Can people with diabetes have sugar?

Yes. For people living with Type 2 Diabetes, the Diabetes Canada 2018 Clinical Practice Guidelines suggest that added sugars may be eaten in moderation by people with diabetes. “In addition to naturally occurring sugars in fruits, vegetables, and dairy products, sugars added to foods may be substituted for other carbohydrates as part of mixed meals up to 10% of total daily calories (about 50 grams added sugars for a 2,000 Calorie diet), provided that adequate control of blood glucose, lipids and body weight is maintained.” 

Does eating sweet foods cause a sugar high followed by a low?

People often mistakenly think that eating sugar-containing foods causes a dramatic rise in blood glucose followed by an extreme low, causing fatigue and food cravings. In fact, in healthy people, blood glucose levels are kept within a narrow range, and fatigue and food cravings are rarely due to low blood glucose (or hypoglycemia). The body is able to defend blood sugar levels by secreting hormones that regulate the storage or release of blood glucose. Studies in humans have shown that sugar actually leads to a smaller increase in blood sugar than eating certain starchy foods such as mashed potatoes and white bread.

To learn more about sugars and diabetes, visit our webpage Sugar and Diabetes, or download our resources:

  1. Tsilas SC, de Souza RJ, Mejia SB, Mirrahimi A, Cozma AI, Jayalath VH, Ha V, Tawfik R, Di Buono M, Jenkins AL, Leiter LA, Wolever TMS, Beyene J, Khan T, Kendall CWC, Jenkins DJA, Sievenpiper JL. Relation of total sugars, fructose and sucrose with incident type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. CMAJ. 2017;189(20):E711-20.
  2. Choo VL, Viguiliouk E, Mejia SB, Cozma AI, Khan TA, Ha V, Wolever TMS, Leiter LA, Vuksan V, Kendall CWC, de Souza RJ, Jenkins DJA, Sievenpiper JL. Food sources of fructose-containing sugars and glycaemic control: systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled intervention studies. BMJ. 2018 Nov21;363:k4644. 
  3. Khan TA, Sievenpiper JL. Controversies about sugars: results from systematic reviews and meta-analyses on obesity, cardiometabolic disease and diabetes. Eur J Nutr. 2016 Nov;55(Suppl 2):25-43. 
  4. Sievenpiper JL. Sickeningly Sweet: Does Sugar Cause Chronic Disease? No. Can J Diabetes. 2016 Aug;40(4):287-95.