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Fruits, veggies and whole grains may lower diabetes risk

A pair of hands chop cauliflower on a cutting board.

July 24, 2020—Could something as simple as switching to whole-wheat sandwich bread or munching on carrot slices instead of chips help you avoid getting type 2 diabetes? It might, if you wind up eating more fruits, veggies and whole grains overall.

That's the takeaway from a pair of studies published in The BMJ.

The research found a link between even a modest increase in a person's produce and whole-grain consumption and the risk for diabetes.

Fruits and veggies shine

The first study compared blood levels of vitamin C and carotenoids (pigments that give many fruits and veggies their colors) among people who developed type 2 diabetes and people who didn't. Vitamin C and carotenoids are indicators of fruit and vegetable intake. Measuring them is more reliable than asking people to remember what they've eaten.

There were 9,754 adults in the diabetes group and 13,662 adults in the comparison group.

People who ate the most fruits and veggies (based on their vitamin C and carotenoid levels) had a 50% lower likelihood of developing diabetes than those who ate the least produce.

For every 66 grams (around 1/2 cup) per day increase in fruits and veggies, participants saw a 25% decrease in their risk for type 2 diabetes.

Whole-grain goodness

The second study looked at data from 158,259 women and 36,525 men who were part of studies of U.S. nurses and health professionals.

Those who ate the most whole grains (based on questionnaires) had a 29% lower risk for type 2 diabetes, when compared with those who ate the least amount of whole grains. The benefits seemed to plateau around two servings of whole grains a day.

Get more for yourself

At least half of the grains we eat should be whole grains, advises the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Unlike refined grains (such as white bread and white rice), whole grains contain the entire grain kernel. They retain more nutrients as a result.

To get more whole grains in your diet, try replacing half of your daily refined grains with choices like these:

  • Whole-wheat bread, pasta and tortillas.
  • Oatmeal.
  • Whole cornmeal.
  • Brown rice.

For overall health, the amount of produce a person should eat varies depending on their age, sex and activity level.

But on average, women should eat 1 1/2 to 2 cups of fruit a day and men should eat 2 cups of fruit a day, according to the USDA.

And for vegetables, women should aim for 2 to 2 1/2 cups a day, while men need 2 1/2 to 3 cups.

Living with diabetes already?

Learn about healthy habits that can help you avoid complications in our The BMJ.

The research found a link between even a modest increase in a person's produce and whole-grain consumption and the risk for diabetes.

Fruits and veggies shine

The first study compared blood levels of vitamin C and carotenoids (pigments that give many fruits and veggies their colors) among people who developed type 2 diabetes and people who didn't. Vitamin C and carotenoids are indicators of fruit and vegetable intake. Measuring them is more reliable than asking people to remember what they've eaten.

There were 9,754 adults in the diabetes group and 13,662 adults in the comparison group.

People who ate the most fruits and veggies (based on their vitamin C and carotenoid levels) had a 50% lower likelihood of developing diabetes than those who ate the least produce.

For every 66 grams (around 1/2 cup) per day increase in fruits and veggies, participants saw a 25% decrease in their risk for type 2 diabetes.

Whole-grain goodness

The second study looked at data from 158,259 women and 36,525 men who were part of studies of U.S. nurses and health professionals.

Those who ate the most whole grains (based on questionnaires) had a 29% lower risk for type 2 diabetes, when compared with those who ate the least amount of whole grains. The benefits seemed to plateau around two servings of whole grains a day.

Get more for yourself

At least half of the grains we eat should be whole grains, advises the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Unlike refined grains (such as white bread and white rice), whole grains contain the entire grain kernel. They retain more nutrients as a result.

To get more whole grains in your diet, try replacing half of your daily refined grains with choices like these:

  • Whole-wheat bread, pasta and tortillas.
  • Oatmeal.
  • Whole cornmeal.
  • Brown rice.

For overall health, the amount of produce a person should eat varies depending on their age, sex and activity level.

But on average, women should eat 1 1/2 to 2 cups of fruit a day and men should eat 2 cups of fruit a day, according to the USDA.

And for vegetables, women should aim for 2 to 2 1/2 cups a day, while men need 2 1/2 to 3 cups.

Living with diabetes already?

Learn about healthy habits that can help you avoid complications in our Diabetes health topic center.

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