Receiving a phone call from your physician telling you that you have type 2 diabetes can be one of the most terrifying and life changing experiences. This situation was all too true for Janet, who was struggling with her weight and a stress-eating habit for years. As a nurse working long hours, she often drank soda to power her through her day, relied on fast food because she was often too tired to prepare her meals, and found it difficult to fit in regular activity. Many Americans are like Janet – justifying daily indulgences, while gradually watching their waistline expand. Some, like Janet, may develop type 2 diabetes with weight gain being an important contributing factor. Some studies suggest refined sugar, like the sugar in Janet’s soda, may be a significant contributor to weight gain and diabetes, among other health issues.

Obesity affects half of all adults and one-sixth of all children in the United States, and these staggering statistics continue to rise. Among contributing factors such as lack of physical activity and unhealthy eating habits, sugar may also contribute to obesity, and is ubiquitous in our food supply. Sugar is often consumed as a natural part of many foods, such as fruit, dairy, and many grains, and as additions to food during production, processing, and packaging. It has been argued that the sweetness of sugar makes food more palatable, which the industry has capitalized on by adding sugar to normally non-sweetened foods to enhance taste. Sugar-sweetened beverages, like soda, may be especially problematic. Evidence suggests that the body may not provide the same fullness response to some liquid calories than it does with solid food. Excessive consumption of sugar in both beverages and foods, combined with decrease in exercise and/or daily movement, poor sleep habits, and excess stress may lead to an energy imbalance that may result in weight gain.

While obesity is a significant risk factor for type 2 diabetes, not all obese individuals develop diabetes. Visceral fat (an apple-type body shape) is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, while peripheral fat (a pear type body shaped) is not. One reason is because visceral fat is accumulated in liver and muscle cells, where it directly impairs their ability to metabolize sugar. Peripheral fat is neatly contained in fat cells and does not always impair the health of liver and muscle cells. Genetics seem to influence how fat is stored in the body, but so does the form of carbohydrate consumed. Studies on animals, which are valuable and can provide important information, but may not always yield the same results in humans, have found that diets supplemented with sugar lead to the development of type 2 diabetes, while those containing primarily starch from foods like potatoes, squash, rice, and pasta did not. As with all topics, opinions may differ. Fructose, a type of carbohydrate in sugar, but not starch, is thought to be a reason why diabetes may develop from sugar ingestion. In addition to sugar’s contribution to obesity, which may contribute to the increase of risk of type 2 diabetes, sugar may directly contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes, as well.

With the correlation of sugar consumption and potential link to development of obesity and type 2 diabetes, which may also affect heart health, it’s not surprising that the American Heart Association recommends limiting sugar intake to 100 calories daily for women and 150 for men. Let’s return to the story of Janet. After the shock of her diagnosis wore off, Janet knew she needed to take control of her health. Janet has started taking regular breaks to walk outside instead of relying on her afternoon super-sized soda to provide her with an energy boost during her 12-hour days. Working with her doctor and a registered dietitian, she also learned to prepare her meals with lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, and plenty of vegetables, instead of relying on the drive-thru for dinner. She also armed herself with fresh, healthy snacks to avoid the vending machines at work. Janet took control of her health and so can you. Take control of yours this holiday season and limit your indulgences in sugary treats and junk food. Focus on putting healthy foods and beverages into your body that will bring about better health and well-being.

By Amy Kurtz BA, BS, CI-CPT, Certified Health Coach
Genesis PURE Wellness Education Specialist

This blog and its contents are provided for nutrition information purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information and topics may not apply to every individual and sometimes are based on alternative healthy philosophies rather than traditional scientific views. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider with any health or nutrition concerns you may have. The information in this article is not intended to promote any specific product, or for the prevention or treatment of any disease and should not be a substitution any medical needs or advice.