True or False? Sugar causes diabetes.

False. It’s a common misunderstanding that sugar causes diabetes. It doesn’t. The real cause has more to do with insulin—or more precisely, the lack of it.

Diabetes is identified as either type 1 or type 2. Type 1 diabetes, which used to be known as juvenile-onset diabetes, is most often diagnosed in children or adolescents. People with type 1 diabetes do not produce insulin, a hormone made in the pancreas that helps control blood glucose levels. Since people with type 1 diabetes do not produce insulin, they need to administer daily injections of insulin to ensure that the glucose in their blood is metabolized properly.

Type 2 diabetes is more commonly diagnosed in adults although it is starting to be seen in children and adolescents too. People with type 2 diabetes still produce insulin but their bodies don’t respond to it normally. The treatment for type 2 is always diet and exercise and often medications (in pill form). Sometimes people may also need to take insulin to manage and control their diabetes. 

So even though sugar doesn’t cause diabetes, it doesn’t mean we should hit up the candy store on a regular basis. Foods high in added sugar tend to have lower nutrient densities and therefore provide little nutritional value. Plus, eating a lot of high-sugar foods is associated with an increased incidence of obesity, which is one of the biggest risk factors for developing diabetes.

Montreal Children's Hospital