Rising levels of obesity and physical inactivity in the United States have led to an increase in the occurrence of type 2 diabetes, a condition that now affects some 16 million Americans. For years, people who possess a genetic predisposition to the disease—or have any other diabetic harbingers, such as glucose intolerance, high blood pressure or obesity—have been advised to adopt sugar-restricted diets as a preventive measure against the potential onset of type 2.

Choose Sensibly
Reduce your intake of sugar by avoiding what the USDA calls “major sources” of added sugars.

  • Soft drinks
  • Cakes, cookies, pies
  • Fruitades and drinks, such as fruit punch and lemonade
  • Dairy desserts, such as ice cream
  • Candy

Source: USDA Dietary Guidelines (www.health.gov). However, a recent study conducted by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston investigated the nutritional habits of approximately 39,000 women age 45 years and older and concluded that moderate sugar intake—no more than 60 grams of sugar per day—did not significantly increase a woman’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes. (Diabetes Care, 2003, vol. 26, no. 4). “Sugar may not be the major determinant of whether one gets diabetes or not,” says Sok-Ja Janket, DMD, MPH, lead author of the study. Janket cites total caloric intake, body mass index, and physical activity level as stronger determining factors than sugar intake.

Still, Janket stresses that it’s important to follow a healthy, low-sugar diet—especially given the fact that the majority of Americans eat more than 60 grams of sugar per day (equivalent to 15 teaspoons, slightly less than the amount in a 20-ounce bottle of soda). Most foods contain some sugar, including fruits and vegetables, and although these inconspicuous carriers are certainly healthier than other sweets, sugar amounts—no matter the source—add up. “[The study] doesn’t mean that it is OK to take in an unlimited amount of sugar,” cautions Janket, who advises that people with common risk factors for type 2 diabetes (adults over 40 with a family history of the disease, obesity, or impaired glucose intolerance) still need to be vigilant about their daily sugar consumption.