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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Can I get diabetes from eating too much sugar?

    I am very slim and fit (exercise regularly) but I have a huge sweet tooth and eat dessert twice a day. Can I get diabetes this way?
  • Find a professional to answer your question

  • 15


    Nicole Senior

    Dietitian, Nutritionist

    I'm an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist, consultant, author, speaker and food and health enthusiast. I love talking and writing about food and health.(please note, … View Profile

    The short answer is no. The risk of type 2 diabetes is increased if you are overweight (so no worries there), have a family history, are inactive (again no worries on this front), or eat a high GI diet. Sugar content of the diet or individual foods is not related to GI and in fact many foods high in starch rather than sugar are high GI. You can read more about the myth that sugar causes diabetes here
    Enjoying a high fibre diet and including good polyunsaturated fats appears to be protective.
    Having said all this, your diet may improve by being more seolective about the “desserts” you eat. Good options are fruit, low-fat yoghurt, custard and ice cream, nuts or wholegrains- or any combination of these. A nice thing to try is fresh seasonal frut served with low-fat yoghurt with a sprinkle of toasted muesli and nuts- a healthy parfait that's really delicious. In winter a healthy crumble is lovely: stewed fruit topped with toasted muesli and nuts warmed briefly under the grill and served with a dollop of low-fat custard-Yum! Both these options are low GI. You can read more about GI here

  • 12


    Jessica is an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) who incorporates a holistic and mindful approach to helping people achieve health and wellbeing. She has a particular … View Profile

    No, there isn't a direct relationship between eating too much sugar and diabetes. Type I diabetes is caused by genetics and unknown factors that trigger the onset of the disease and type II diabetes is caused by genetics and lifestyle factors. However, we do know that being overweight does increase your risk of developing Type II diabetes. In addition, if you are constantly consuming more than your body's energy requirements, whether this energy comes from sugar or from fat, it will lead to weight gain and increase your risk of diabetes. If you have a history of diabetes in your family, eating a healthy, balanced meal plan and regular exercise are recommended, to manage your weight and reduce your risk of diabetes.

  • 8


    Kate Freeman


    I’m extremely passionate about providing honest, simple nutrition advice and doing it in such a way that inspires and motivates you to make positive lifestyle … View Profile

    No. Sugar doesn't cause diabetes. It's quite simplistic to put a cause or relationship, and we can't really - studies don't show a cause or relationship between too much sugar and diabetes. However, diabetes is a condition where your body can't manage your blood sugar levels very well. So, excess sugar is obviously going to put strain on the system.

    A healthy body, no matter what your sugar intake is, will still be able to manage healthy levels. But if this is prolonged over a long time plus there are other risk factors such as your family history, obesity, high blood pressure, etc., they're also risk factors for Type II diabetes. I'm saying that it doesn't cause diabetes, but it is also a good idea to make sure that you moderate your sugar intake. But definitely a little bit of sugar every now and then as a treat doesn't hurt, so everything in moderation.

  • 2




    Dr Kevin Lee

    Endocrinologist, Nuclear Medicine Physician

    Consultant Physician in Endocrinology, Diabetes & Nuclear Medicine. I am on Twitter @dr_kevinlee. I am on Facebook I help patients with obesity, diabetes, thyroid, … View Profile

    It turns out that feeding fructose (a form of sugar) to rats can induce metabolic syndrome and increase insulin resistance.

    What is more interesting is that if these rats are given probiotics, the effect is blocked, suggesting that there dietary fructose causes changes in the gut bacteria zoo (microbiome), and the balance can be reversed by probiotics (1).

    This is by no means definitive evidence that eating high fructose can lead to diabetes in susceptible individuals, or eating lots of probiotics can prevent diabetes. It simply means this is an area of research.

    In fact there are some studies looking at using probiotics to prevent gestational diabetes (2).

    Dr Kevin Lee
    BSc(Med), MBBS, MHS(Clin Epi), FRACP
    Consultant Physician Endocrinologist.

    1. Park D-Y. Dual probiotic strains suppress high fructose-induced metabolic syndrome. World J Gastroenterol. Baishideng Publishing Group Inc; 2013;19(2):274. 
    2. Barrett HL, Dekker Nitert M, Conwell LS, Callaway LK. Probiotics for preventing gestational diabetes. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2014, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD009951. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD009951.pub2.

  • 8


    While the rat model is a valuable model to test hypotheses, it is important not to translate this as being the same for humans.
    It is well documented that the way rats metabolise fructose is quite different than humans. And the studies used are feeding the rats in extraordinary high amounts of fructose e.g 60gm fructose/day to get these results, which is quite significant for such a small animal.

    So while the role of fructose in obesity / T2 diabetes is interesting it is only found to have some relationship in humans when a person is consuming a diet far too high in energy. It has not been found to be true using foods which have naturally occurring fructose e.g. fruit in whole form ( not juiced) which also contains prebiotics, nor in a healthy diet where body weight is being maintained because they are not over eating. This highlights if the right amount of food is eaten, represented by a healthy body weight, then fructose may be of no concern.

    Most research has been done with fructose in a liquid form, which is often being translated into sugar sweetened beverages as being the food we should be eliminating here, and these drinks are very successful in increasing our energy intake very quickly and very easily.

    Certainly the role of probiotics ( good bacteria) is very interesting in maintaining metabolic health. However this should be achieved by eating foods high in prebiotics ( foods that feed the good bacteria) which are also those that are more whole foods and less processed foods and shown to be helpful in the prevention of T2 diabetes / obesity.

    The food that contain prebiotics are our dense wholegrain breads, beans, lentils , wholegrain cereal grains like rolled oats, psyllium husks and fresh whole fruit and vegetables.

    European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2014) 68, 416–423

  • 7


    Angela McGinnis

    Diabetes Educator, Registered Nurse

    I am a Nurse Practitioner with special interests and experience in diabetes, cardiovascular, heart failure, wounds and vascular. I can prescribe and order diagnostics. I … View Profile

    the 3 Fs are risk factors for type 2 diabetes.

    Family History

    Over Forty

    Being Fat (sorry - overweight)

    You can lose weight but the other 2 are out of your control unfortunately.


  • 4


    Arlene is a registered practising dietitian, with a private practice in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney, and has built a strong business over the last … View Profile

    There is no evidence that eating too much sugar can give you diabetes. If you are overweight you are at risk of getting Type 2 diabetes, but as you are slim and fit this is not the case. However, a high sugar diet is loaded with empty calories that translates into you not getting all your nutrients from more wholesome food. Sugar is addictive – the more you eat the more you crave, so I suggest you cut out all the sugar and replace it with sweet foods that satisfy your sweet tooth but also have nutrient value eg. dates, dried figs, mangoes, yoghurt. Basically you should limit the foods and drinks containing added sugars. You should have a balanced, healthy diet which involves eating a wide variety of nutritious foods, in the right amounts, while occasionally being able to enjoy small amounts of ‘discretionary choices’. It is about taking a balanced approach that is sustainable over the long term. You admit to eating too much sugar so you should make a concerted effort to reduce the amount you are consuming.


    The Dietetic Association encourages you to eat better and to limit foods that contain added sugar with little nutritional value (such as confectionary, sugar-sweetened soft drinks, fruit drinks, energy and sports drinks). You should be trying to develop better lifestyle eating patterns.

  • 1




    Kirsty Woods

    Exercise Physiologist

    Hi I’m Kirsty Woods,I would like to use my experience, expertise and passion to help you reach your weight, energy and health goalsI have been … View Profile

    Great question, and really addresses the Fat Vs Fit debate...

    When we digest sugar the body responds by releasing insulin (the hormone that gets your blood sugar level down). Over time consistent exposure to insulin spikes can make the cells insulin resistant), similar if you live near a train line your body 'gets used to it' and no longer responds. This is a precursor to diabetes. 

    You should also consider the other negative metabolic impacts of sugar including inflammation, poor appetite control and liver stress.

  • 5


    Rebecca Charlotte Reynolds, PhD (Dr Bec) Personable and ethical registered nutritionist (RNutr) and lecturer at UNSW Australia in lifestyle and health. Regular consultant to the … View Profile

    Hi Kirsty, I am afraid that your answer is not entirely accurate. When we digest carbohydrate, not sugar, our pancreas produces insulin. More insulin is generally produced when a carbohydrate-containing food increases blood glucose levels more than another food. And in actual fact, it's processed starchy foods (e.g. rice bubbles) that increase blood glucose levels the most, not sugary foods (e.g. table sugar) - a common misconception of consumers and health professionals. Have a read of this website:

    The topics of inflammation and appetite control also relate to the information that I have provided above - if you're taking about blood glucose levels, higher levels relate to higher inflammation and poorer appetite control.

    And what do you mean by liver stress?


  • 1




    Kirsty Woods

    Exercise Physiologist

    Hi I’m Kirsty Woods,I would like to use my experience, expertise and passion to help you reach your weight, energy and health goalsI have been … View Profile

    As you would be aware sugar is made from 2 components – Glucose and Fructose, and is classified as a carbohydrate.

    The glucose component of table sugar increases BSL, and in turn triggers the release of insulin. The fructose component has to be metabolised by the liver. I use the general term ‘stress’ as a general term to relate to the general public, however the metabolizing of fructose can create abnormal liver enzyme activity and insulin resistance in the liver, despite the client being a ‘healthy weight’.

  • 4


    Lifestyle choices , ethnicity and genetics cause T2 diabetes (not sugar or fructose).

    It all starts with insulin resistance (IR), which occurs well before T2 diabetes is diagnosed. This is when the body cells do not respond that well to insulin, to let the glucose go from the blood stream into the body cells , so the glucose can be used as energy. This causes the blood glucose to rise. Other metabolic changes also occur one of which is a higher amount of insulin being secreted in response to the higher blood glucose levels but IR is there already.

    While we know some information about insulin resistance we do not completely know  it all. People have insulin resistance well before T2 diabetes is diagnosed. Some ethnic groups are genetically IR, some medications cause this. What we do know is that some lifestyle choices cause IR, those that cause obesity especially central obesity, related to eating too much processed carbohydrates (as Rebecca has said), saturated fats, cigarette smoking and inactivity.  Some research suggests that IR may be present in some genetically predetermined slim people but the blood glucose levels only rise in an environment of inactivity, poor diet  and high central obesity as visceral fat causes hormones which cause IR.

    The role of fructose is very fashionable and controversial , as most of the studies are done in rats with very high fructose concentrations, well above what humans consume. So while fructose has been shown to cause IR in the rat we cannot translate that into humans. What we do know is sugar sweetened beverages being a processed carbohydrate drink , having both fructose and glucose should be avoided as this causes central obesity. Humans very rarely eat fructose in isolation ( except in the lab) as sugar is both fructose and glucose or at the levels used  in the rat model. We also know for some, fructose is poorly metabolised and passed out into the toilet before it even gets to the liver. Liver enzymes are raised with IR especially ALT but it is always related to many lifestyle choices and metabolic factors and really you can't put this done to one thing only.

    Exercise improves IR.  Studies show that after exercising, muscles become more sensitive to insulin, reversing IR and lowering blood glucose levels. Exercise also helps muscles absorb more glucose without the need for insulin. The more muscle a body has, the more glucose it can burn to control blood glucose levels.

    Choose a Mediterranean type diet that has minimal processed foods, moderate amounts of monounsaturated fats, more plant based foods that are more  whole.

  • 2


    At Eatwiser, we believe your health is your most valuable asset and the best way to reach optimum health is through nutrition. Our goal is … View Profile

    Congratulations on maintaining your weight and fitness. However, as with most health conditions, your weight and fitness is only part of the story!

    It may or may not be OK to eat dessert twice a day. It obviously depends on the choices of dessert (for example apple crumble versus apple danish) and portion size (for example a large muffin versus a small muffin). It also depends on whether these desserts are taking the place of a more nutritious meal/snack which may affect general health in other ways.

    Avoiding diabetes goes beyond focusing on just the amount of sugar you eat. It is important to take into account your whole diet and whether there are other foods/eating habits that you can change to lower your risk of developing glucose intolerance/diabetes in the long term.

    All the best!

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