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Does sugar cause diabetes?

The short answer is no. The long answer offers a fascinating look at your body's complicated relationship with sugar, and a picture of your overall health.

One small thing: Flavoured yoghurt is sweetened with sugar, so why not swap it for plain yoghurt and add fresh fruit instead?

There's a common misconception that sugar causes diabetes. It's easy to see where the idea comes from: diabetes is characterised by high blood sugar levels, so it doesn't sound crazy to say that eating too much sugar can cause it.

What is diabetes?

First, it's important to distinguish between the different types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition that causes your body to attack its own pancreas, which means it doesn't produce enough insulin in order to manage the body's blood glucose levels. It often begins in childhood, and there's virtually nothing one can do to prevent it.

Type 2 diabetes, however, is far more common, making up about 90% of all diabetes cases. In Type 2 diabetes, your pancreas produces insulin, but it's either not enough or your body's cells are resistant to it, so glucose stays in your blood and isn't used as fuel for energy. Type 2 diabetes tends to be diagnosed in later life, and it's often associated with obesity. In most cases you can prevent it by managing your body weight (especially around your tummy), getting plenty of exercise and watching what you eat.

The third type is gestational diabetes. Although the cause is unknown, it's believed that hormones present during pregnancy block the action of insulin. Gestational diabetes often goes away once the baby is born but women who get it during pregnancy have a greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life.

Sugar and diabetes

You'll notice we didn't mention the word "sugar" in any of these explanations. That's because eating sugar does not directly cause Type 1, Type 2 or gestational diabetes.

However, eating too much sugary food can cause weight gain, and obesity is a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes. Also, once you have diabetes, eating too much sugar can make the symptoms worse, because diabetes makes it difficult for your body to manage its blood sugar levels. And that's where the sugar link comes in.

Can diabetes be prevented?

Type 2 diabetes is preventable, and you can dramatically reduce your risk by simply making a few small dietary and lifestyle changes. The good news is, those same changes can also lower your risk of developing cancer and heart disease, so it's a win all round.

When it comes to making dietary changes, here's what you can do to manage (or prevent) diabetes:

  • Make your carbs count. Choose wholegrains, fruit and vegetables instead of sugary drinks and processed foods.
  • Eat smaller portions of food more regularly during the course of the day.
  • Limit your consumption of foods and beverages that are high in added sugar.
  • Eat a variety of wholegrain foods, fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Make an effort to eat less saturated fat – rather focus on healthy fat sources , including avocados, olive and canola oils, and nuts.
  • Reduce your salt intake.
  • Limit your alcohol consumption.

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