Diabetes runs in my family. Should we be using artificial sweeteners instead of sugar?
Diabetes is a condition where the body does not produce enough insulin, the hormone necessary for the body to be able to use sugar. Without this ability, the body is starved of the energy it needs to function, and long-term serious complications may arise. It is important for people to assess the likelihood of whether they will develop diabetes. It is a very common chronic disease; the Centers for Disease Control states that one out of three people born since 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime.
Here is a partial list of risk factors for diabetes:
1. Family history, especially a parent or sibling with diabetes.
2. Ethnic group: percentages of people with diabetes are higher in Hispanics, African Americans, Asians and Native Americans.
4. Lack of exercise.
5. Having had gestational diabetes during pregnancy or having delivered babies over nine pounds.
6. High cholesterol: HDL cholesterol ("good" cholesterol) below 35 mg/dL, or triglyceride level above 250 mg/dL.
7. Cardiovascular disease.
8. Over 40 years of age.
The earliest abnormality in Type 2 diabetes (90 percent of diabetics have Type 2 diabetes) is a failure to tolerate sugars, indicated by a high level of glucose in the blood. If you have one or more of the above risk factors, or common diabetes symptoms such as thirst and increased urination, it is imperative that you see your doctor and take a glucose tolerance test.
Now to your question. For people without glucose intolerance, it is not necessary to use artificial sweeteners in place of sugar. In moderation, sugar is not bad for the body. However, you've already identified that your family is at risk because of a family history of diabetes. If members of your family have other risk factors, or have tested high on a glucose tolerance test, you may want to take steps now to reduce risk through exercise, weight loss and dietary changes. In addition to reducing sugar intake, these changes could include substituting artificial sweeteners for sugar. Your doctor can help you establish diet guidelines that can promote your entire family's health.
For more information, visit the American Diabetes Association site at diabetes.org.