For a food that has a lot to offer nutritionally, fruit gets a bad rap. It is often perceived as having too many carbohydrates, too much sugar and / or too many calories.
If you’ve given up on fruit because you think it’s a no-no, or if it’s something you just don’t think you are achieving, consider including two servings in your daily diet.
According to Australian researchers, it may help prevent type 2 diabetes. The new research results add to growing evidence that fruit plays a role in controlling blood sugar levels and lowering the risk of diabetes.
The latest discoveries
The study included 7,675 men and women, with an average age of 54, who had been recruited for the ongoing Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study.
Researchers assessed participants’ intakes of total fruit, individual fruit, and fruit juice and administered blood tests to measure insulin resistance. Participants were followed for up to 12 years to see if they had developed type 2 diabetes.
Insulin resistance occurs when cells in the body do not respond properly to insulin, a hypoglycemic hormone. As a result, the pancreas must make more insulin to allow glucose to enter cells.
People who ate at least two servings of whole fruit per day (versus less than one) had significantly better measures of insulin sensitivity, suggesting they produced less insulin to lower their blood sugar.
Having high levels of insulin circulating in the blood can damage blood vessels and is linked to a greater risk of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
Compared with those who ate little or no fruit, participants with a higher fruit intake were 36% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes over the five years of follow-up. The researchers took into account risk factors such as body mass index, physical activity, family history of diabetes, and dietary factors.
Individual fruits and fruit juices were not associated with measures of insulin resistance or diabetes risk.
This study was observational in nature, so it cannot prove that consuming whole fruit reduces the risk of diabetes. Still, its results are consistent with previous large studies that have investigated fruit consumption and the risk of diabetes.
Protective properties of fruits
Fruits can protect against insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes in several ways. Most whole fruits have a low glycemic load, which means they cause your blood sugar to rise lower and slower.
Certain types of fiber in fruit foods fuel the growth of gut microbes which, in turn, play a role in glucose metabolism.
Vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals can also help. Many types of fruit, for example, are good sources of flavonoids, phytochemicals that improve insulin sensitivity.
The health benefits of eating whole fruit extend beyond type 2 diabetes. Eating more fruit has also been linked to a lower risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. certain cancers.
What about sugar?
Yes, fruit does contain sugar, but it’s natural sugar that’s packed with fiber, which helps slow the release of natural sugars into the bloodstream. This is not the same as free sugars (eg, added sugars, fruit juices), which cause blood sugar spikes quickly.
The health risks of consuming too much sugar come from free sugars, not the natural sugars found in whole fruits.
Having said that, not everyone should eat a lot of fruit every day.
If you’re trying to lose weight, the calories from natural sugars add up if you overeat. If you have prediabetes or diabetes, you should limit (but not avoid) fruit consumption to help control blood sugar.
Many of us, however, could bear to eat more fruit.
Add fruit to your summer menu
Now is the time to enjoy the flavor and nutrition of locally grown seasonal fruits. While all summer fruits are good for you, I have a few favorites.
Strawberries, in season now, are an excellent source of vitamin C (98 mg per cup, the equivalent of a full day) and brain-beneficial anthocyanins. Raspberries are also high in anthocyanins, not to mention fiber (8g per cup).
Cantaloupe is my favorite summer melon. It is an exceptional source of potassium (427 mg per cup), vitamin C (60 mg) and beta-carotene (3.2 mg). And next month, I’ll replace my snack of dried apricots with a fresh one.
Leslie Beck, a dietitian in private practice based in Toronto, is the Director of Food and Nutrition at Medcan. Follow her on Twitter @LeslieBeckRD
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