The Role of Sugar in Diabetes: Debunking Common Myths


Diabetes is a growing concern in today’s world, affecting millions of people worldwide. In the quest to manage and prevent this chronic condition, a lot of myths and misconceptions have emerged, particularly about the role of sugar. At Wellness 1st Integrative Medical Center in Gilbert, Arizona, we believe in providing accurate information to help individuals make informed decisions about their health. In this article, we will debunk common myths surrounding sugar and diabetes, delve into the real impact of sugar, offer guidelines for sugar intake, explore sugar alternatives, and discuss the connection between carbohydrates and diabetes.

sugar diabetes

Myth 1: Sugar Causes Diabetes

One of the most pervasive myths is that sugar consumption directly causes diabetes. However, the relationship between sugar and diabetes is more complex than this oversimplified belief.

The Facts:

Diabetes is primarily categorized into two types: Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. This type is not caused by sugar intake.

Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is associated with insulin resistance, where the body’s cells do not respond effectively to insulin. While excessive sugar consumption alone does not cause Type 2 diabetes, a diet high in added sugars and excessive calorie intake can contribute to weight gain and obesity, which are risk factors for Type 2 diabetes.

Genetics, family history, lifestyle factors (like diet, physical activity, and stress), and obesity all play significant roles in the development of Type 2 diabetes.

Myth 2: People with Diabetes Should Avoid All Sugars

Another common misconception is that individuals with diabetes should completely eliminate all sugars from their diet.

The Facts:

People with diabetes do not need to completely eliminate sugar from their diet. Instead, they need to manage their carbohydrate intake, which includes sugars, to maintain stable blood glucose levels.

Carbohydrates, including sugars, are broken down into glucose in the body and can raise blood sugar levels. Therefore, it’s essential to monitor and control carbohydrate intake, not just sugar.

Individuals with diabetes can still enjoy small amounts of sugar in their diet by carefully counting and balancing their carbohydrate intake with medication or insulin as needed.

Sugar Intake Guidelines for Diabetes

Balancing sugar intake is crucial for individuals with diabetes. Here are some guidelines to help manage sugar intake effectively:

  1. Read Food Labels: Carefully check food labels for total carbohydrate content and the type of sugar used in the product. Pay attention to serving sizes, as the total carbohydrate content includes sugars.
  2. Limit Added Sugars: Minimize the consumption of foods and beverages with added sugars, such as sugary drinks, candies, and desserts. Opt for naturally sweet alternatives like fresh fruits when craving something sweet.
  3. Portion Control: Be mindful of portion sizes when consuming foods that contain sugar. Smaller portions can help manage blood sugar levels more effectively.
  4. Choose Complex Carbohydrates: Opt for complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, vegetables, and legumes, which provide a slower release of glucose into the bloodstream and help stabilize blood sugar levels.

Sugar Alternatives for Diabetes

For those with diabetes looking to satisfy their sweet tooth without affecting their blood sugar levels, there are several sugar alternatives available:

  1. Stevia: A natural sweetener derived from the leaves of the Stevia plant. It has zero calories and doesn’t raise blood sugar levels.
  2. Erythritol: A sugar alcohol with a sweet taste but minimal impact on blood sugar. It is absorbed in the small intestine and excreted unchanged in the urine.
  3. Monk Fruit: A natural sweetener extracted from monk fruit, which contains compounds called mogrosides that provide sweetness without calories or carbohydrates.
  4. Xylitol: Another sugar alcohol that has a minimal impact on blood sugar levels and dental health. It is often used as a sugar substitute in sugar-free gum and candies.
  5. Agave Nectar: While it is sweeter than sugar, agave nectar is still a sugar and should be used sparingly by people with diabetes. It has a lower glycemic index than table sugar, meaning it may cause a slower rise in blood sugar.

Carbohydrates and Diabetes: Understanding the Connection

It’s essential to recognize that carbohydrates, including sugars, are a fundamental part of our diet. However, managing carbohydrate intake is especially crucial for people with diabetes to control their blood sugar levels.

The Facts:

Carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of energy. When consumed, they are converted into glucose and used for various bodily functions.

Different carbohydrates have varying effects on blood sugar levels. Simple carbohydrates, like sugars, are quickly digested and can lead to rapid spikes in blood glucose. Complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, provide a slower, more sustained release of glucose.

Counting carbohydrates and understanding their impact on blood sugar is a key part of diabetes management. This practice, known as carbohydrate counting, helps individuals with diabetes match their insulin or medication dose to their carbohydrate intake.

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can people with diabetes consume sugary fruits like bananas and grapes?

Yes, people with diabetes can enjoy fruits like bananas and grapes, but in moderation. It’s essential to monitor portion sizes and incorporate them into a balanced meal plan. Additionally, individuals with diabetes may want to opt for fruits with a lower glycemic index, such as berries or citrus fruits, which have a less pronounced impact on blood sugar.

2. How can I determine the glycemic index of foods to manage my blood sugar better?

You can find resources and databases online that provide glycemic index (GI) values for various foods. GI measures how quickly a carbohydrate-containing food raises blood sugar levels. Foods with a low GI (55 or less) have a smaller impact on blood sugar, while those with a high GI (70 or higher) cause a rapid increase.

3. Are sugar-free products a safe option for people with diabetes?

Sugar-free products can be a suitable option for individuals with diabetes, but it’s important to read labels and understand the potential impact of sugar alternatives used in these products. Some sugar alcohols, like sorbitol or maltitol, can cause digestive discomfort when consumed in excess.


The relationship between sugar and diabetes is complex. Sugar is just one type of carbohydrate, and managing carbohydrates is key for diabetes. Carbohydrates, including sugars, impact blood sugar levels. Carbohydrate counting helps maintain stable blood glucose. The myth of sugar elimination isn’t accurate. Balancing sugar intake is crucial. Reading labels, limiting added sugars, portion control, and choosing complex carbs are practical strategies. Sugar alternatives like stevia, erythritol, monk fruit, or xylitol offer sweet options. At Wellness 1st Integrative Medical Center in Gilbert, Arizona, we empower patients to manage diabetes through education and personalized plans.