The evidence is mounting that shows excessive sugar consumption as a primary cause of obesity and potentially diabetes as well as a number of other chronic illnesses. There are several recent studies that have indicated an association between higher consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and inflammatory markers.(1) This has clear health implications.
The number of people living with diabetes today has increased from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million adults in 2014.2 This dramatic rise is largely due to the rise in type 2 diabetes and factors driving this include obesity and lack of exercise. Think about that number for a minute....422 million people! This is a worryingly big number and it certainly seems that this is an epidemic sweeping the world. Future projections of type 2 diabetes are just as worrying, particularly in Asia and India.
Back in 2004, a study was published that estimated the global prevalence of diabetes to reach 322 million in 2030! We are way ahead of that number already making diabetes one of the most serious diseases known to the human species! Added sugar didn’t use to be a major component of the diet. It was only when modern food processing methods were invented and sugar became more widely available that sugar consumption started to increase significantly.
Excessive sugar causes your insulin levels to spike and therefore, with frequent intake of sugar, the insulin receptor cells become resistant to insulin. There is an increasing amount of research that shows an association between diabetes and excessive sugar intake, but the evidence isn’t strong enough to show sugar as the cause. However, eating too many calories, particularly if a large proportion of them are from sugar, contributes to becoming overweight. Being overweight increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
A number of studies have shown that consuming excessive sugar, particularly from drinking sugary drinks can cause weight gain. We don’t really need research and studies to tell us this. It is a simple equation. If we consume too many calories for our daily needs, particularly ‘empty calories’ from sugar, then, those calories or excess energy will be stored as fat. The evidence that shows sugar as being a direct cause of type 2 diabetes is not clear. In 2013 a European study was published in Diebetologia that evaluated the association between the consumption of sweet beverages and type 2 diabetes incidence in European adults.
The results showed that a 12oz daily increase in sugar-sweetened soft drink consumption was associated with a 22% increase risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In addition, it was found that a 12oz daily increase in artificially sweetened soft drinks was associated with a 52% increase in risk. However, after adjustment for BMI (Body Mass Index), the association between artificially sweetened soft drinks and diabetes was reduced to be statistically insignificant. The association between sugar-sweetened soft drinks and diabetes remained the same when adjusted for BMI. Fruit juice consumption was not associated with diabetes incidence.
So what does this study tell us and is the information valid? The fact that the adjustment for BMI made such a difference to the results of the study is a perhaps something to be cautious of. Unfortunately, BMI is simply not an accurate measure of body fat. The researchers concluded that this study corroborates previous reports showing an increased risk of type II diabetes with increased sugar sweetened soft drink consumption that seems to be independent of BMI. The researchers recommend that further studies are required that assess the magnitude of the effect of weight gain on these associations. Having studied the report myself, I think the results give us cause for concern. Whether excessive sugar consumption causes type II diabetes directly or whether it is obesity that causes the diabetes, we probably all know instinctively, that consuming excessive sugar can only lead to poor health outcomes.
Lets turn our attention to just how much sugar is an excessive amount. The World Health Organisation and government advisors in England have recently proposed a cut in their recommendations for sugar consumption.(4) The new advice is that sugar consumption should account for 5% of energy intake, down from 10%. A study published in the BMC Pubic Heath Journal suggested that this should be no more than 3%.9 Despite the move to reduce sugar consumption, evidence shows that people are exceeding the old 10% target. So what is 5% of energy intake? This equates to approximately 25 grams for women (5 – 6 teaspoons) and 35 grams (7 – 8 teaspoons) for men per day. To put this into perspective, one 330ml can of fizzy pop would take you up to the 5% daily target!
1. Low to moderate sugar-sweetened beverage consumption impairs glucose and lipid metabolism and promotes inflammation in healthy young men: a randomized controlled trial.
Am J Clin Nutr August 2011 vol. 94 no. 2 479-485
2. World Health Organization. Global Report on Diabetes.
3. Consumption of sweet beverages and type 2 diabetes incidence in European adults: results from EPIC-InterAct. Diabetologia. 2013 Jul;56(7):1520-30
4. World Health Organization. Sugars intake for adults and children.
5. A reappraisal of the quantitative relationship between sugar intake and dental caries: the need for new criteria for developing goals for sugar intake.
BMC Public Health. 2014 Sep 16;14:863.
Sports & fitness nutritionist, researcher and author on a mission to improve the human condition. Focusing on evidence-based and outcome-based nutrition, training, mindset & environment