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Does eating fruit prevent or worsen diabetes?

By Nate Llewellyn, health enews, a news service from Advocate Health Care

Many of the more than 29 million people in the U.S. living with diabetes may avoid eating fresh fruit because of the relatively high amounts of sugar in things like bananas, apples, cherries and mangos. But, a new study out of China shows you might want to reconsider for your overall health’s sake.

Researchers found that people with diabetes who consumed high amounts of fruit had a significantly lower risk of dying from any cause, as well as a lower risk of developing cardiovascular complications.

For those diagnosed with diabetes before the onset of the study, eating fresh fruit more than three days a week produced a 17 percent lower risk of death overall. This fruity regimen also produced a 13-28 percent decrease in risk of developing major complications from diabetes, such as heart disease and stroke, compared with individuals who didn’t eat as much fresh fruit.

“For people with diabetes, there has been some understandable confusion about the potential health impact of the adding sugar from fruits to their diets,” says Gwendolyn Woodruff, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, Ill. “Fruits contain natural sugar in the form of fructose, and some people believe that too much fructose can be harmful. But this study reinforces the fact that unprocessed fruit has many benefits for those who eat it regularly – even people with diabetes.”

The results, from data collected from almost 500,000 people across China over a multi-year period, also indicate that eating fresh fruit can prevent the onset of diabetes. People without diabetes were able to decrease their risk of developing diabetes by 12 percent by eating fresh fruit daily.

“Even better than managing diabetes is avoiding it altogether,” says Woodruff. “These study results show that fresh fruit can be a tasty way to help head off the onset of a potentially devastating chronic disease.”

Included in the study’s results was the researchers’ note that many earlier studies were primarily conducted with Western populations, where fresh fruit consumption was often combined with processed fruit (e.g. canned peaches, fruit cocktail, etc).

The category of processed fruit, they add, can also include fruit juices, which have been shown to be a risk factor for diabetes.

“The big difference between fresh fruit and canned, processed fruit is the fiber in the fresh produce,” says Woodruff. “The fiber in the fresh fruit helps slow down the digestion of the fructose, regulating its release into the bloodstream and allowing the body to deal efficiently and healthfully with it.”

Woodruff say that people can’t eat an unlimited amount of fruit without some potential downsides. But, she adds, the added health benefits of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals make fruit a healthy addition to a meal or snack – especially if they are replacing higher processed foods like chips.

For people in overall good health, Woodruff recommends they check the USDA’s for fruit consumption guidelines. And those living with diabetes should be working with their physicians to develop a diet that meets all their needs.

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