An Apple a Day Could Keep Diabetes Away

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Mixing fresh fruit into your everyday diet can help cut the risk of diabetes by up to 12 percent, reports a new study.

The benefits are not limited to those without the disease. For diabetics, eating fresh fruit daily can significantly reduce the chance of mortality — by up to 17 percent — and lower the risk of diabetes-related health challenges, including heart and kidney disease, stroke, eye disease and neuropathy.

Credit: Neys Fadzil/Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0

While the overall health benefits of consuming fresh fruit are well-documented, many people who either have diabetes or are worried about developing the blood-sugar condition abstain from eating fruit because of the high sugar count, report the study authors, whose work appears in the journal PLOS Medicine.

The study, which monitored more than 500,000 Chinese individuals over a seven-year span, refutes conventional wisdom that says eating fruit will lead to a spike in blood-sugar levels, potentially leading to or exacerbating diabetes.

“Contrary to the common belief in China and many other low- and middle-income countries, fresh fruit consumption was not associated with an elevated blood glucose level in the present study, even in people with diabetes,” report the study authors.

Related: Eating More Fruits and Veggies Can Improve Mental Health

Instead, those who consumed fresh fruit at least once per day saw strong health outcomes nearly across the board.

“Fruit consumption was significantly and inversely associated with mortality from all causes,” report the authors. Also, “fruit consumption was also inversely associated with risk of hospitalization due to diabetic vascular complications.”

A Closer Look at the Findings

To ascertain their findings, the researchers recruited 512,891 men and women from 10 diverse regions of China. The study participants filled out a questionnaire on various social and health attributes, including socioeconomic status, alcohol intake, diet, physical activity and medical history.

Among the study group, the researchers identified about 30,000 people with diabetes, and over the course of seven years an additional 9,500 cases of diabetes were reported. “Individuals with diabetes were older and were more likely to be women, to live in urban areas, to be less physically active, and to have higher levels of [body mass index], waist circumference and blood pressure,” report the authors.

Credit: Rusty Clark/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Fewer than one in five study participants, or 19 percent, reported eating fresh fruit on a daily basis. But most people ate fruit regularly, with just 6 percent reporting that they never or seldom ate fresh fruit. Those who consumed fruit daily had “a clear log-linear dose-response relationship” between eating fruit and achieving a lower diabetes risk.

“This association was not significantly modified by sex, age, region, survey season or a range of other factors, including smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity, BMI and family history of diabetes,” report the researchers.

The study authors call this “the first large prospective study demonstrating similar inverse associations of fruit consumption with both incident diabetes and diabetic complications,” and believe their new research may help shape nutrition counseling for diabetics and non-diabetics alike.

“These findings have public health and clinical implications and provide strong evidence in support of current dietary guidelines that fresh fruit consumption should be recommended for all, including those with diabetes,” they conclude.

Related: Avocados Could Treat Metabolic Syndrome

Richard Scott

Richard Scott is a health care reporter focusing on health policy and public health. Richard keeps tabs on national health trends from his Philadelphia location and is an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.