Eating More Fruit Helps Lower Your Risk of Diabetes, According to New Research

Seriously! Find out why, plus how much to nosh on daily to score the biggest bang for your bite.

an illustration of a brain shape made out of fruit
Photo: Getty Images / Fourleaflover

Next time you're in the grocery store or as you ease back into safely eating out at restaurants, take a look around. If your community matches the average one in America, 1 in every 10 of the people you see has been diagnosed with diabetes, according to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And 90 to 95% of those people have type 2 diabetes.

Those with type 2 diabetes struggle with insulin resistance, a condition in which the body's cells have trouble balancing sugar in the blood. In normal conditions, the pancreas pumps out insulin after we eat, which helps usher sugar into the cells and keeps blood sugar fairly stable throughout the day. Over time, some bodies have cells that stop responding to this insulin. The pancreas sprints to keep up by releasing more insulin, but eventually it can get overwhelmed and the body needs to do something with this extra blood sugar. Its first plan of attack is often to store it as fat to use later.

Coincidentally, being overweight, having a family history of diabetes and a sedentary lifestyle can increase your risk for type 2. That means extra pounds can happen as a result and contribute to the origin. Talk about a vicious, challenging cycle.

Consistently high blood sugar over an extended period of time can lead to a whole host of health issues, including kidney disease, heart disease and vision loss.

While type 1 diabetes is not reversible (with current medical knowledge, although researchers are working on this) and those diagnosed with it take insulin for the rest of their lives, type 2 diabetes can often be managed by a well-balanced diet and exercise alone. It may even be possible to reverse type 2 with these healthy lifestyle habits.

When you think of eating for steady blood sugar to prevent or control diabetes, chances are you think of a minimally-processed, fiber-rich diet that's low in added sugars and sodium. With that "low sugar" recommendation, many people automatically lump in natural sugars—such as those found in fruit—along with added sugars (say, the cane sugar in a candy bar or cereal).

But new research just published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism suggests that those who eat moderate to high amounts of whole fruit on a regular basis actually have lower risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Individuals who consume a fruit-strong diet also have better glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, two factors also linked to type 2.

To determine this, researchers analyzed data from 7,675 participants involved in the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study which began in 1999 and had follow-ups in 2004 and 2005 as well as in 2011 and 2012. Using surveys, they tracked how much fruit people ate at each of those three check-in times, which fruits they consumed, plus how much fruit juice they drank. Since this was a long-term study, the scientists were able to see how many of the participants developed type 2 diabetes between the first and final surveys.

Those who ate 2 servings of fruit per day had 36% less risk for developing type 2 diabetes than those who ate less than ½ serving daily. The high-fruit folks also noted healthier measures of insulin sensitivity and glucose intolerance at the 5-year follow-up. (This 2-serving mark matches our recommendation for how much fruit to eat daily for a longer and stronger life, by the way.)

"Most fruits typically have a low glycemic load, whilst being rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, all of which may play a contributory role," the researchers explain.

So whole fruit is actually great for diabetes prevention—in moderation and as part of an overall healthy, balanced diet, of course. Fruit juice? Not so much, likely because the blood sugar-balancing fiber is removed.

"We did not see the same patterns for fruit juice. These findings indicate that a healthy diet and lifestyle, which includes the consumption of whole fruits, is a great strategy to lower your diabetes risk," says Nicola Bondonno, Ph.D., one of the study authors who is also an adjunct lecturer at Edith Cowan University's Institute for Nutrition Research in Perth, Australia.

These results only hint at a correlation between fruit consumption and type 2 diabetes risk, and the authors hope that future research can dive into whether eating whole fruit can actually cause protective effects. Still, it's sweet news for all of us fruit fans out there that eating our 2-a-day can help keep us healthy in a wide variety of ways. If you struggle to hit the mark, try our EatingWell dietitian-approved #1 way to eat more fruit.

Already have type 2? Yep, you can totally eat whole fruit, too while keeping your blood sugar in check. Check out the 5 best fruits to eat if you have diabetes.

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