No, sugar doesn’t cause diabetes

Posted on 9 November 2022

Having a sweet tooth doesn’t mean you might develop type 2 diabetes. Being overweight is a risk factor for this condition, but your family history, age, and racial background are risk factors too.

People often think diabetes is a sugar intake problem. But that is an oversimplification, says Dr Elmo Pretorius, a specialist physician and endocrinologist at Mediclinic Vergelegen. He explains: “Type 2 diabetes occurs because your body doesnt use insulin properly and your blood glucose level is higher than normal. The reason for this is insulin resistance due to abdominal obesity. Therefore, excessive calorie intake that causes abdominal obesity is the real problem regardless of whether it’s from carbohydrates, fatsor protein. A balanced, calorie-restricted diet augmented with exercise to decrease weight is advised.”


Type 2 diabetes is characterised by a condition called insulin resistance that means your body doesn’t use the hormone insulin effectively to move glucose (blood sugar) to your cells and muscles for energy. This causes glucose to accumulate in your blood, which can put your health in danger. People with diabetes need to keep their blood sugar controlled,” says Ilsabé Spoelstra, a dietician from Mediclinic Bloemfontein. If its frequently too high or too low, this can lead to serious long-term health problems, such as kidney damage, poor eyesight, and an increased risk for heart disease. To manage the disease properly, you’ll need to lose weight, follow a healthy eating plan, and be physically active.


While the type of carbohydrates you eat can affect how fast blood glucose levels rise (glycaemic index), the total amount of carbs affects the glycaemic index more than the type. So, a diet heavy on carbohydrates, e.g., pastas, breads and grains, can be just as hard to control as one high in processed sugars. In fact, depriving yourself of sweets often leads to overeating of other carbohydrates to satisfy the need,” says Dr Pretorius. A sweet will give a short spike of high sugar compared to an energy-dense starch, which will give sustained high glucose.”


Spoelstra adds that diabetes can be reversed by limiting carbohydrates. We can even reduce a patient’s need for insulin therapy by doing so.”


Diabetes diets

While no two diabetes diets will look the same, theyll include certain foods that support a healthy weight and blood sugar levels, says Spoelstra:

Non-starchy vegetables (broccoli) and high-fibre fruit (apples)
Lean protein (chicken breast) and fatty fish (salmon) 
Healthy fats in moderation, e.g., nuts and avocado
Whole grains
Nonfat or low-fat dairy.


A registered dietician will help you understand how what you eat affects your diabetes and formulate a plan with you to reach your goals within your budget and healthy food preferences. Your dietitian, in consultation with your other healthcare professionals, may also be able to adjust or prescribe any diabetes medications you need.


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Published in Diabetes

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.