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Sweet Nothings: Added Sugar Is a Top Driver of Diabetes

Feb 10, 2015

For years, doctors have recommended that people lay off sugary snacks and sodas to reduce their weight and improve their health. Now, a new report says sugar is a primary driver of type 2 diabetes.

In the report, a team of scientists compared the effects of different types of carbohydrates in food. They found that added sugar, primarily in the form of fructose, is significantly more harmful when it comes to diabetes.

Fructose can play a role in boosting fat accumulation in the liver, the researchers say, which leads to inflammation and insulin resistance. According to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse, insulin resistance increases the risk that a person will develop type 2 diabetes.

They also found that even moderate amounts of sugar tended to affect insulin levels in test subjects. Only subjects who had a diet with a very low amount of sugar (just 5%) were able to avoid the negative changes associated with higher-sugar diets. "Added sugar and especially added fructose … present a serious and increasing public health problem," the researchers warn.

That's because of how this kind of sugar behaves in our bodies. "Fructose is directly involved more than other types of sugar as a building block of fat," says Timothy Graham, MD, an endocrinologist at University of Utah Health.

"Fructose intake plus high insulin levels drive lipogenesis and make it easier to put on weight and potentially harder to burn fat," he cautions. (Lipogenesis refers to how the body converts simple sugars to fatty acids.)

The researchers recommend that people limit added sugars to 5% to 10% of their total daily calorie consumption. About 75% of packaged foods and beverages in the U.S. contain added sugars, the report says, and 13% of Americans consume at least a quarter of their total calories as added sugars.

To reduce added sugars in your diet, replace processed foods with whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables. Phase sugary sodas out of your life. If plain water doesn't satisfy you, flavor it with lemon, cucumber or other fruit.