The idea that sugar can cause diabetes is a common misconception. Just eating sugar does not cause a person to get diabetes. For parents who watched their children consume several pounds of sugar last week for Halloween, this information may come as a relief. But knowing that dietary sugar doesn’t directly cause diabetes is not an excuse to consume large amounts of sugar-laden foods.

Although high sugar diets do not cause diabetes, eating large amounts of sugar may cause insulin resistance, which increases the risk of getting diabetes. Whether we like it or not, the foods we choose to eat on a daily basis have a direct impact on our health. High sugar diets put extra stress on the body and are usually low in important vitamins and
minerals. Some minerals, like chromium, magnesium and zinc are especially important in insulin function. Not only do high sugar diets not supply enough of these minerals, but some researchers believe that high sugar diets cause the body to lose even more of these minerals, especially chromium. If these nutrients are depleted from the body, insulin doesn’t function properly.

Insulin resistance is a term referring to a condition where the cells do not respond to insulin the way they are supposed to. In a sense, the cells do not “listen” to the insulin. (Much the same way teenagers often refuse to respond to parents.) In an effort to overcome the resistance, the pancreas makes even more insulin to try to get the message across. For some people (due to genetics and other risk factors), the insulin resistance may eventually lead to diabetes when the pancreas ‘wears out’ and can’t keep up with the excessive insulin production needed to get the messages across to the cells. Insulin resistance is also associated with an increased risk of heart disease and a variety of other disease conditions. Some of the other factors that contribute to insulin resistance include a high fat diet, lack of exercise and excess body fat (more than 20 pounds overweight).

One of the most important things to know about insulin resistance is that it is reversible through exercise and a healthy diet. Exercise is especially important because it contributes to weight loss and helps the body’s tissues become more sensitive to insulin (i.e. the tissues ‘listen better’ to the insulin message when you exercise). Eating a healthy diet means reducing hydrogenated fat intake, reducing sugar intake and eating foods that are high in fiber and rich in important vitamins and minerals and eating carbohydrates that have a low glycemic index, that is, is not easily converted to glucose (sugar).