Paleo Diet: What If Sugar Doesn't Cause Diabetes?

Diabetes Symbol

The Universal Symbol of Diabetes

It’s a serious question. What IF sugar doesn’t cause diabetes? I know, everyone in the world “knows” that diabetes is a functional breakdown of the body’s ability to effectively utilize and remove excess sugar (Glucose) from the blood stream, but does that mean that sugar is at the very root cause of the disease?

Isn’t that basically like saying, “The house obviously burned down, but what caused it? Well, it was simply a case of too much fire”. Is that logical? We know that the fire burned the house down, but who or what started the fire? Isn’t that the more important question?

The modern view of diabetes has been that the body loses it’s ability to clean an ever increasing amount of glucose from the blood, because cells throughout the body become resistant to an ever increasing amount of insulin in the blood. The glucose has nowhere to do, and therefore builds to toxic levels in the blood. The cycle continues, until the person becomes a full-on Diabetic and loses the ability to consume carbohydrates without the aid of medication.

Too many carbohydrates, especially of the refined variety, over a long period of time, leads to insulin resistance, which leads to obesity (usually, but not always), and then to diabetes. It all sounds logical, neat and plausible, but it may well not be correct at all.

Have you ever heard of the Randle Cycle?

“The Randle cycle is a metabolic process involving the competition of glucose and fatty acids for substrates.[] It is theorized to play a role in explaining type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance.[][]

The mechanism involves malonyl-CoA and its inhibition of carnitine palmitoyltransferase I (CPT1). Glucose oxidation produces citrate which can be converted to malonyl-CoA by acetyl-CoA carboxylase (ACC1 or ACC). Malonyl-CoA then can bind to and inhibit one of several tissue-specific CPT1 isoforms. CPT1 is a transporter of long-chain fatty acids at the outer mitochondrial membrane that regulates the rate-controlling step for fatty acid oxidation. Thus, increased glucose oxidation inhibits fatty acid oxidation via malonyl-CoA, which can then be utilized as a substrate for fatty acid synthesis.

It is named for Philip Randle, who described it in 1963.” – Wikipedia

In other words, cells flip back and forth between two different sources of fuel, which can consist of either glucose, or long chain fatty acids. It is a constant flux, but in the presence of large amounts of long chain fatty acids, glucose will be refused entry, and vise versa. What are long chain fatty acids? Well, unsaturated fats are long chain fatty acids, and that includes our favorite polyunsaturated (PUFAs) fats, like the vegetable and seeds oils that have “saturated” our food industry over the last hundred years or so. Since the S.A.D (Standard American Diet) is overly full of PUFAs, many people are living in a near constant state of turning glucose away from entry into their cells, in order to allow the PUFAs to be burned for fuel. In my opinion, it’s easy to see how such a process could easily become the true starting point for insulin resistance…..the real catalyst that starts the house fire if you like.

This whole mechanism is also one of the reasons that fructose has earned such a horrible reputation recently:

Vegetable Oils With Fructose or Alcohol

These toxic foods are particularly dangerous in combination. We discuss this mix of toxins in the book (pp 56-59).

If you feed lab animals high doses of polyunsaturated fat (either omega-6 or omega-3 will do) along with high doses of either fructose or alcohol, then fatty liver disease develops along with metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a major risk factor for obesity, and it’s not very difficult to induce obesity on these diets.

Both sugar and vegetable oils are individually risks for obesity:

  • Stephan did a nice post a few years back, “Vegetable Oil and Weight Gain,” discussing a couple of studies showing that both rats and humans get fatter the more polyunsaturated fat they eat.
  • Dr. Richard Johnson and colleagues did a review of the evidence for sugar (fructose) as a cause of obesity in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition a few years ago. []

What the animal studies show us is that when fructose and vegetable oils are consumed together, they multiply each other’s obesity-inducing effects.” – Paul Jaminet, from the Perfect Health Diet Blog

Fructose in combination with PUFA is bad news, but fructose by itself shouldn’t present an issue. However, it seems that PUFAs either by themselves, or in combination with sugars are almost equally bad news for the human body.

What if sugar doesn’t cause diabetes?

What if PUFAs are actually the cause of metabolic syndrome and diabetes? What if sugar was essentially the innocent bystander? Sure, once a person HAS diabetes, sugars becomes a very large part of the problem, but is that the fault of the sugar? I don’t believe so.

PUFAs build up in fat reserves over time, which serves to exacerbate the whole issue, because many diabetic people are also overweight. However if a person completely avoids PUFAs, given enough time, it’s possible that they could systematically replace all of the PUFA stored in fat tissue, with much more friendly saturated fats. Given this reasoning, it seems entirely possible that if a diabetic person were to simultaneously eliminated all PUFAs, and starchy carbohydrates from their diet for a period of several years consistently, they could fundamentally reverse Type II Diabetes……for good. Maybe that’s precisely why so many Paleo Diet practitioners have been able to reverse their diabetes, even though modern medicine doesn’t believe

that it is possible to do so without drugs.

I think that PUFAs should be excluded from everyone’s diet. Maybe it would help to turn the tide on diabetes, and also stop everyone from blaming an entire macronutrient category (carbs) for the creation of diabetes. It doesn’t start with carbs, it just ends with carbs.

Check out article for more info on the dangers and misconceptions of PUFAs.

Hopefully you now understand a little more, why I say that “The Devil is in the PUFA”, because I think that is where he lives.


If you found this article useful, please click the ‘LIKE’ button below to share on Facebook. We also invite you to leave comments, and join the Paleo Diet News discussion!

Go to, and download my 30-Day UN-Challenge eBook now……It’s a step-by-step guide to your personal health revolution.

Barry Cripps is a Paleo-based, Certified Nutrition and Wellness Consultant, who operates out of Bowling Green, Kentucky.

For more information please visit:


Did you enjoy this?

If you liked this article, enter your email below and we will send you a brief and focused newsletter every Thursday morning. No fluff, no spam, no advertising. Just the best of the best recipes, articles, and news.

13 Responses to Paleo Diet: What If Sugar Doesn't Cause Diabetes?

  1. Michelle March 14, 2012 at 8:17 am

    So, is fish oil not as healthy for us as is claimed?

    • Barry Cripps March 14, 2012 at 10:32 am

      I believe that is the case Michelle, yes.

  2. Ken O'Neill March 14, 2012 at 10:20 am

    Once again, a causal theory based on the physiology of what population? It’s been well established for more than a decade within EVOLUTIONARY PHYSIOLOGY that 50,000 yeas of genetic refinement now results in a mismatch between Stone Age genes and Information Age sedentary life style. Inactivity at levels below genetic threshholds down regulates of systemic insulin sensitivity regulating polypeptides genetically sequenced in response to exercise induced signalling. As such, while new theoretical proposals are indeed interesting, nevertheless the mistake the forest for the trees in consideration of harsh, inconvenient genetic facts of life. Those wishing a silver bullet from the Paleo diet are best advise to pursue heroin addiction to support deeply entrenched tribal sluggishness.

    • Barry Cripps March 14, 2012 at 10:37 am

      This is a Paleo News site Ken, so the take-home message is basically always going to be that going Paleo will probably help the problem in question. :-)

      There definitely IS lots of evidence that shows that exercise can help stop the onset of diabetes, but I think the main point from my article is that stopping diabetes in it’s tracks could be as easy as simply avoiding consumption of as many Polyunsaturated fatty acids as possible.

      Thanks for your comment Ken!

  3. Adam March 14, 2012 at 11:39 am

    It never made sense to me of the mass amounts of hate towards sugar like it was utter toxic/poison. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating sugar consumption. Processed/crappy sugar is useless and unnecessary in the diet and should generally be avoided overall. Any nutrient-less food should if you are trying to min/max your health. But, we DO have a pancreas for a reason… If we weren’t meant to regulate sugar/insulin then our bodies would have never “evolved” with the organ itself. Maybe this doesn’t sound very scientific, but I’m just speaking from the surface here.

    Inflammation has seemed to be our biggest criminal to health for a long haul now (in conjure with many others, of course.) But the screwed up n-6/n-3 ratio over a prolonged period of time is destroying our bodily tissues/organs/cells. Then you take someone who starts quad dosing fish oil and although raising n-3, still makes your overall PUFA levels unstable. I mean, studies do show you can have high cholesterol and so long as you don’t have inflammation, you won’t have adverse/ill effects within your arterial walls. High Cholesterol isn’t an issue, inflamed arterial walls causing it to be more narrow is the issue it seems. Keyword: Inflammation.

    I think the key part hit on is once someone DOES have a metabolic disorder such as diabetes, it’s a whole different story. But a very healthy, maybe athletic individual, seem to handle sugars in the diet okay (not in excess of course.)

    Sorry for the rant. Might have some mistakes in there. I’ve just been thinking about this whole sugar/paleo/etc stuff lately. I’ve been “modified” paleo for over a year now, but chose to include raw/fermented dairy, occasional soaked legumes, starch, and occasional white rice. I’m extremely lean and athletic so this has worked wonders for me. Maybe some won’t call that paleo, but I do enjoy the paleo principles and fundamentals, I just have to alter/tweek what works best for my body and performance as an athlete.

    • Lila Solnick March 14, 2012 at 11:58 am

      Rants are always welcome, as long as they are on topic. :)
      I know exactly what you mean. I’ve been rethinking my whole take on paleo as well. Owning this website has naturally educated me on some of the other possible factors regarding health and diet. I am coming to look at paleo as the basic template which can cover a huge range of possibilities. From very low carb/high fat/protein (Inuit) to very high carb, low protein, moderate fat (Kitavan) and every shade in between. All are valid. You just have to know what works for you. AND even more important, be open to the idea that what has worked may not work in the future. That one is huge. Most people don’t get that. I know I didn’t.
      Thank you for joining the conversation!

  4. HeatherT March 14, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    It’s an interesting thought, given the popularity of vegie oils. One thing though: fish have PUFA too, so does chicken. And seseme oil. The Pacific Rim countries tend to eat a lot of all of those, along with tropical fruit, and until they eat “Western” food, they don’t get diabetes. To me that would indicate that if in fact PUFA causes diabetes, there must be another trigger involved.

    My guess is that the trigger is iron. Ingested iron causes an insulin surge, and it’s known that donating blood makes a person way less susceptible to Type 2 diabetes. The US started adding iron to most starchy foods after WW2, which is about the same time as the metabolic syndromes started showing up. When you combine iron-fortified food with heme iron and saturated fat, the non-heme iron is absorbed way more than it would be otherwise, and that effect is multiplied when you add, say, soda pop or orange juice. The other major starch in the US, white potatoes, is loaded with iron too.

    That means your average US burger, fries, and pop meal is a ticket to insulin resistance. And that is exactly what young children are being fed. But a bowl of rice with some fish, stir-fry, and a cup of tea would have a very different effect.

    You can read a good article on this here:

    So how come this wasn’t a problem for Paleo people? First we don’t know exactly what Paleo peoples ate, and it varied depending where they lived and time of year. But also they had parasites, so iron overload wasn’t such an issue, and it’s not an issue if you get injured a lot either.

    However, if you take a look at non-European people who start adopting part of the American diet, there is something interesting. The Kitavians and Philippinos and Japanese adopted some American foods, but stuck mostly to their fish/rice/yam diet, and are doing way better than the Aborigines, who live inland and eat mainly bush food (lizards, rodents etc.). The Aborigines have the highest rate of heart disease of anyone. It’s possible that when they ate only their native foods, or before they got anti-parasite medication, the high-iron diet was ok, but that it doesn’t work in combination with some modern foods or lifestyle changes?

  5. Tim March 14, 2012 at 10:59 pm

    Makes a ton of sense Barry!! Great post. Sharing!

  6. D March 25, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    I don’t know much about the Paleo diet, but when it comes to getting the public hyped about the latest research, I tend to look for references above and beyond someone’s blog or wikipedia. Not impressed, sorry.

    • Barry Cripps March 26, 2012 at 9:18 am

      Great, glad I could be of service! LOL

  7. jakey March 26, 2012 at 10:35 am

    hi, one thing to note though (and this is not a defense of a high PUFA diet!!), is that saturated fats in our diet are mostly long chain fatty acids too, except for butyric and lauric acid. a small point, but i don’t think we can indict fats based on their carbon chain length, but we should focus on their potential reactivity.

  8. Jeffrey of Troy March 26, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    Just because excessive omega-6 causes excessive inflammation, doesn’t implicate omega-3 from fish oil (which of course has the opposite effect).

    • Barry Cripps March 26, 2012 at 5:16 pm

      How do you know that Jeff?