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What the research says on sugar, diabetes and kids

by Tanya Kwiez |

Recent research done by Universities of Stanford, California-Berkeley, and California-San Francisco together has shown that sugar may play a much stronger role in the development of diabetes than people at first realised. They found that although the study concentrated on diabetes rates among adults, its results have important impacts for children’s health, too.

The study emphasises that countries with more sugar in their food supplies have higher rates of diabetes. The researchers stated that the findings are very relevant in the current climate because type 2 diabetes, which is linked to obesity and was once unheard-of in children, is becoming much more common in children and teens.

The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) projects that 1/3 of U.S. children will have diabetes during their lifetimes, and it will be 1 in 2 in African-American and Latina female children. Studies also show that girls are more likely to have childhood diabetes 2 than boys. Paediatric obesity experts say changes in diets especially added sugars and processed foods and a lack of physical activity are the greatest contributors to childhood obesity and increased rates of type 2 diabetes in kids (1). 

There are some important things we can do to help children remain in a healthy weight range and have normal blood sugar levels. Studies support that reducing calories, limiting unhealthy fats, and sweets in a child's diet are important as is daily physical activity. Research has proven time and time again that exercise has a dramatic effect on decreasing insulin resistance (2).


What foods can help manage or decrease the risk of diabetes?

Ensuring a diet that is rich in whole foods, fresh fruit, and vegetables as well as healthy protein choices can have significant benefits in managing or preventing the risk of diabetes. Making sure you eat certain foods regularly and limiting others may assist people in managing their blood sugar levels. 

For people who have been diagnosed with diabetes, the principle dietary recommendations (according to the American Diabetes Association), are:

  • Eat fruits and vegetables.
  • Eat lean protein.
  • Choose foods with less added sugar.
  • Avoid trans fats.
  • Eat less processed foods.

Some special foods that have shown to benefit blood sugar include:

  • Green, leafy vegetables. These may be helpful for people with diabetes because they contain high levels of antioxidant and starch-digesting enzymes. Foods to include regularly would include spinach, collard greens, kale, cabbage, bok choy and broccoli (3). 
  • Whole wheat and whole grains. Whole grains have a higher amount of fibre and more nutrients than white, refined grains do. Ensuring adequate fibre is important because it slows digestion and nutrient absorption which can help to keep blood sugar stable. Whole wheat and whole grains rank lower on the glycaemic index (GI) scale than white rice or white breads which means they have less of an impact on blood sugar levels. Whole grains to regularly eat would include whole grain bread and pasta, buckwheat, brown rice, bulgar, quinoa, millet and rye (4). 
  • Beans. Eating a variety of legumes, including beans, may help to prevent diabetes but also manage blood sugar levels. Like whole grains, beans are rich in complex carbohydrates and fibre and are digested slowly. This means, eating beans can increase satiety and help to regulate glucose and insulin levels after meals (5). Beans to eat regularly include black, kidney, navy, pinto and adzuki. 
  • Nuts and seeds. A 2018 study suggested that eating walnuts regularly is associated with a lower incidence of diabetes (4). Chia seeds are now viewed as one of nature’s superfoods due to their high antioxidant and omega-3 content. They are also high in plant-based protein and fibre. A small study in 2017 also showed they may benefit in the management of diabetes as the studies participants who ate chia seeds lost more weight after 6 months than the group who didn’t.
  • Citrus fruits. Researchers have found that two particular bioflavonoid antioxidants in citrus fruits called hesperidin and naringin, are responsible for the antidiabetic effects of oranges (6). 
  • Berries. Researchers from Harvard University in 2013, found that blueberries are very effective for preventing diabetes, followed by grapes and apples. Bananas and grapefruit were also good for diabetes prevention (8). 
  • Probiotics. Research carried out in 2011 suggested that eating probiotic yogurt can improve cholesterol levels in people who have type 2 diabetes, helping to reduce heart disease (5.) Another study in 2014 showed that consuming probiotic foods can decrease inflammation and oxidative stress and importantly; increase insulin sensitivity (7). 



1. Stanford Childrens Health, (2022).  Sugar intake, diabetes and kids: Q&A with a pediatric obesity expert, accessed 27/2/2022, available at:
2. WebMD, (2021). Type 2 diabetes in children, accessed 1/3/2022, available at:
3. Tiwari, A. K., Jyothi, A. L., Tejeswini, V. B., Madhusudana, K., Kumar, D. A., Zehra, A., & Agawane, S. B, (2013). Mitigation of starch and glucose-induced postprandial glycemic excursion in rats by antioxidant-rich green-leafy vegetables' juice. Pharmacognosy, 9(Suppl 1), S66–S73. 
4. Medical News Today, (2019). What are the best nuts for diabetes? Accessed 26/2/2022, available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday/articles/324141

5. Garden-Robinson J & McNeal K, (2019). All About Beans Nutrition, Health Benefits, Preparation and Use in Menus. North Dakota State University, Publications. 
6. Ye, X (2018). Phytochemicals in Citrus: Applications in Functional Foods, CRC Press.

7. Gomes, A.C., Bueno, A.A., de Souza, R.G.M. et al, (2014). Gut microbiota, probiotics and diabetes. Nutr J; 13, 60.
8. Muraki I, Imamura F, Manson J E, Hu F B, Willett W C, van Dam R M et al, (2013). Fruit consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: results from three prospective longitudinal cohort studies BMJ; 347.