The notion is understandable. Blood sugar levels are high in diabetes, so a common idea has held that eating sugar somehow triggers the disease process. However, the major diabetes organizations take a different view. The American Diabetes Association1 and Diabetes UK2 have labelled this notion a “myth,” as has the Joslin Diabetes Center,3 which wrote, “Diabetes is not caused by eating too much sugar.” These and other organizations have worked to educate people about the causes of diabetes and the role that foods play in the disease process.
There are two main kinds of diabetes: type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. More than 90% of all people with diabetes have type 2. Overall, more than 3 million Canadians have diabetes, and the number is rapidly rising. Over a third of people with type 2 diabetes are unaware they have the disease and are not receiving the required treatment because, for many people, early symptoms are not noticeable without testing.
Is type 2 diabetes serious? Type 2 diabetes is not a death sentence, but it is a very serious disease that demands attention and careful monitoring. There is no such thing as ‘mild’ diabetes. Elevated glucose levels can damage the nervous system, blood vessels, eyes, heart, and kidneys. These complications really impact quality of life (through blindness, amputations, dialysis etc). They also significantly increase the chance of a stroke or heart attack. Managing blood glucose levels immediately, along with other health risk factors (e.g., cholesterol, blood pressure, weight), is necessary for preventing these complications. Losing even a small amount of weight and keeping it off can also improve glucose control as well as have other clinical benefits (read more tips on managing diet and exercise below for more on weight loss). Keep in mind that better diabetes management also has benefits in the here and now – mood and energy levels are adversely affected when your glucose levels are high.
Persons with diabetes are prone to infection, delayed healing, and vascular disease. The ease with which poorly controlled diabetic persons develop an infection is thought to be due in part to decreased chemotaxis of leukocytes, abnormal phagocyte function, and diminished blood supply because of atherosclerotic changes in the blood vessels. An impaired blood supply means a deficit in the protective defensive cells transported in the blood. Excessive glucose allows organisms to grow out of control.
Type 2 diabetes, the most common type of diabetes, is a disease that occurs when your blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high. Blood glucose is your main source of energy and comes mainly from the food you eat. Insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, helps glucose get into your cells to be used for energy. In type 2 diabetes, your body doesn’t make enough insulin or doesn’t use insulin well. Too much glucose then stays in your blood, and not enough reaches your cells.
6. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): This is a common cause of female infertility and insulin resistance. It can cause signs and symptoms like irregular periods, acne, thinning scalp hair, and excess hair growth on the face and body. High insulin levels also increase the risk of developing diabetes, and about half of women with PCOS develop diabetes.
The problem with sugar, regardless of type, is the sheer amount of it that’s found in the Standard American Diet (SAD), which is the typical eating plan many people in the United States — as well as those in an increasing number of modernized countries — have developed a taste for. When consumed in excess, foods in this category can lead to heart disease, stroke, and other serious health issues. “Often, foods with added sugar also contain fat,” explains Grieger, noting that these components go hand in hand when it comes to the risk for insulin resistance, the hallmark of type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes mellitus (non–insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus [NIDDM]) is a heterogeneous disorder. Most patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus have insulin resistance, and their beta cells lack the ability to overcome this resistance.  Although this form of diabetes was previously uncommon in children, in some countries, 20% or more of new patients with diabetes in childhood and adolescence have type 2 diabetes mellitus, a change associated with increased rates of obesity. Other patients may have inherited disorders of insulin release, leading to maturity onset diabetes of the young (MODY) or congenital diabetes. [7, 8, 9] This topic addresses only type 1 diabetes mellitus. (See Etiology and Epidemiology.)
Insulin is a hormone that is produced by specialized cells (beta cells) of the pancreas. (The pancreas is a deep-seated organ in the abdomen located behind the stomach.) In addition to helping glucose enter the cells, insulin is also important in tightly regulating the level of glucose in the blood. After a meal, the blood glucose level rises. In response to the increased glucose level, the pancreas normally releases more insulin into the bloodstream to help glucose enter the cells and lower blood glucose levels after a meal. When the blood glucose levels are lowered, the insulin release from the pancreas is turned down. It is important to note that even in the fasting state there is a low steady release of insulin than fluctuates a bit and helps to maintain a steady blood sugar level during fasting. In normal individuals, such a regulatory system helps to keep blood glucose levels in a tightly controlled range. As outlined above, in patients with diabetes, the insulin is either absent, relatively insufficient for the body's needs, or not used properly by the body. All of these factors cause elevated levels of blood glucose (hyperglycemia).
In the exchange system, foods are divided into six food groups (starch, meat, vegetable, fruit, milk, and fat) and the patient is taught to select items from each food group as ordered. Items in each group may be exchanged for each other in specified portions. The patient should avoid concentrated sweets and should increase fiber in the diet. Special dietetic foods are not necessary. Patient teaching should emphasize that a diabetic diet is a healthy diet that all members of the family can follow.
Jump up ^ Sarwar N, Gao P, Seshasai SR, Gobin R, Kaptoge S, Di Angelantonio E, Ingelsson E, Lawlor DA, Selvin E, Stampfer M, Stehouwer CD, Lewington S, Pennells L, Thompson A, Sattar N, White IR, Ray KK, Danesh J (June 2010). "Diabetes mellitus, fasting blood glucose concentration, and risk of vascular disease: a collaborative meta-analysis of 102 prospective studies". Lancet. 375 (9733): 2215–22. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(10)60484-9. PMC 2904878. PMID 20609967.
When there is excess glucose present in the blood, as with type 2 diabetes, the kidneys react by flushing it out of the blood and into the urine. This results in more urine production and the need to urinate more frequently, as well as an increased risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs) in men and women. People with type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to get a UTI as people without the disease, and the risk is higher in women than in men.