What About Natural Sweeteners?
Though natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup or agave are made from natural plant sources, they’re still highly refined — much like sucrose or table sugar.
These products contain large amounts of sucrose and fructose and are considered sources of added sugar when used in cooking.
Therefore, they should be consumed in moderation like all added sugars, ideally making up less than 10% of your daily calories.
Do Artificial Sweeteners Increase Diabetes Risk?
Artificial sweeteners are man-made, sweet-tasting substances that cannot be metabolized by humans for energy. As such, they provide sweetness without any calories.
Though artificial sweeteners don’t spike blood sugar levels, they have still been linked to the development of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes
Drinking just one can of diet soda per day has been associated with a 25–67% increased risk of type 2 diabetes, compared to drinking no diet soda at all.
It’s unclear why artificial sweeteners increase diabetes risk, but there are a variety of theories.
One thought is that artificially sweetened products increase cravings for sweet-tasting foods, leading to higher sugar consumption and weight gain, which increases diabetes risk .
Another idea is that artificial sweeteners disrupt your body’s ability to properly compensate for calories consumed from sugar since your brain associates the sweet taste with zero calories .
Some research has found that artificial sweeteners can change the type and number of bacteria that live in your colon, which may contribute to glucose intolerance, weight gain and diabetes.
While there does appear to be a link between artificial sweeteners and diabetes, more research is needed to understand exactly how they’re related.
Other Risk Factors for Diabetes
While consuming large amounts of added sugar is linked to an increased risk of diabetes, many other factors are at play, such as:
- Body weight: Research shows that obesity is one of the main risk factors for type 2 diabetes but that losing just 5–10% body weight can reduce the risk .
- Exercise:People who live sedentary lifestyles have nearly twice the risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those who are active. Just 150 minutes per week of moderate activity can reduce the risk.
- Smoking: Smoking 20 or more cigarettes per day more than doubles your risk of diabetes, but quitting brings the risk nearly back to normal.
- Sleep apnea: Sleep apnea, a condition in which breathing is obstructed during the night, is a unique risk factor for diabetes.
- Genetics:The risk of developing type 2 diabetes is 40% if one of your parents has it and nearly 70% if both parents have it — suggesting a genetic link.
How to Eat to Lower Your Risk of Diabetes
In addition to cutting back on added sugars, there are many other dietary changes you can make to reduce your diabetes risk:
- Follow a whole-foods diet:Diets rich in nuts, fruits, vegetables and whole grains have been linked to a reduced risk of diabetes.
- Drink coffee: Drinking coffee may reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. Each daily cup is associated with a 7% lower risk of diabetes .
- Eat green leafy vegetables: Eating a diet rich in green leafy vegetables has been linked to a 14% lower risk of diabetes.
- Drink alcohol in moderation: Moderate alcohol consumption of up to four drinks per day is linked to a roughly 30% lower risk of diabetes, compared to completely abstaining or drinking heavily.
- if reducing your intake of added sugars feels overwhelming, you can start by simply reducing your intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, which are the primary source of added sugars in the standard American diet.
- This one small change could make a big impact.
- Carefully reading nutrition labels is another must, since there are over 50 different names for sugar used in food products. Learning to notice them is the first step in reducing your consumption.
- Thankfully, there are many ways to cut back on sugar while still enjoying a flavorful and nutrient-dense diet, so you don’t have to feel deprived.
The Bottom Line
Excessive amounts of added sugars have been associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, likely due to negative effects on the liver and a higher risk of obesity.
Natural sugars like those found in fruits and vegetables are not linked to diabetes risk — whereas artificial sweeteners are.
In addition to sugar consumption , overall diet quality, body weight, sleep quality, exercise and genetics all play a role in the development of this disease.
Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts and coffee, consuming alcohol in moderation, maintaining a healthy body weight and exercising regularly can help reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.