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Replace junk food with whole fruits to prevent diabetes

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Need a snack? Reach for an apple or a handful of grapes or blueberries instead of cookies and chips and you could reduce your risk for developing Type 2 diabetes by as much as 26%.

In our carb-phobic world, fruits are always in question. Are the natural sugars they contain harmful? No, finds a study from Harvard School of Public Health. In fact, the nutrients found within whole fruits are quite beneficial to our health.

Dr Qu Sun MD ScD and colleagues collected data on more than 66,000 women from the Nurses’ Health Study, another 85,104 from the Nurses’ Health Study II, and 36,173 men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Every 4 years, questionnaires assessed how often the subjects ate certain foods and their diabetes status (among other measures).

Eating more whole fruits – especially blueberries, grapes and applies – lead to a reduced risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. The fruits with the greatest advantage were blueberries; eating three servings per week lowered diabetes risk by 26%.

Some fruits were “diabetes neutral” – meaning they did not lower or raise risk. Those included peaches, plums, apricots, prunes, oranges, and strawberries. But a few fruits did seem to have a negative risk on diabetes (meaning they appeared to increase risk), such as cantaloupe. The probable reason is that fruits with edible skins appears to contain a substance that is protective against diet-induced glucose intolerance.

"There is little downside to eating more apples, blueberries, and grapes, especially if they are being substituted for unhealthy foods," said Dr. Sun.

However, drinking fruit juice was not an adequate substitution for fruit intake. Drinking the juice correlated with a significant 8% increased risk of developing diabetes.

The recommendation inferred from this study is to eat those beneficial fruits at least three times per week. Of course, the dietary guidelines set by other institutions suggest at least two fruits per day (in addition to three vegetable servings). Here are some tips getting more fruit into your diet:

• Toss a handful of chopped apples or blueberries into a salad.
• Top protein (ie: fish, poultry) with a fruit-based salsa
• Keep whole fruits within easy reach so that you are more apt to choose them instead of the bag of chips in the pantry
• To save money, find local farmers markets and buy fruits (and vegetables) in season
• Out of season, frozen fruits can be excellent within a smoothie or warmed and added to a breakfast cereal such as oatmeal.
• If you choose canned, choose those fruits packed in 100% juice instead of syrup and drain the juice (or save for another purpose)

Journal reference: Muraki I, et al "Fruit consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: results from three prospective longitudinal cohort studies" BMJ 2013;347:f5001.

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