Eating plenty of vegetables and fruit—at least five servings daily—is an important part of staying healthy. If your concern is type 2 diabetes, you also may want to think about changing up your usual apples and carrots for more variety.
Dial up variety, diminish risk
Researchers collected information on diet and health habits from 3,704 adult men and women, 653 of whom had type 2 diabetes. By comparing quantity and variety of vegetables and fruit eaten by participants with and without diabetes, the study authors determined how these eating habits were linked to the odds of having the disease.
After adjusting for other health-related factors, such as body mass index, family history of diabetes, and smoking, the researchers found:
5.7 servings of fruit and vegetables per day resulted in 21% lower likelihood of having diabetes compared with people who averaged 2.1 daily servings,
2.6 daily vegetable servings was associated with 24% lower likelihood of having diabetes compared with people who ate an average of 1.1 servings,
11.4 different types of vegetables each week led to a 23% lower likelihood of having diabetes compared with people who averaged 5.5 weekly vegetable types,
6.9 different types of fruit each week resulted in 30% lower likelihood of having diabetes compared with people who averaged 2.0 weekly fruit types, and
16.3 different types of vegetables and fruit each week led to a 39% lower likelihood of having diabetes compared with people who averaged 8 weekly vegetable and fruit types.
Add volume and variety
This type of study—called a case-cohort study—cannot prove cause and effect. It only suggests an association between eating behaviors and odds of having type 2 diabetes. Still, it makes sense that both amounts and types of vegetables and fruit are important for health, and your best bets for minimizing your odds of diseases such as type 2 diabetes seem to be eating more vegetables and fruit overall with a focus on the vegetables in particular, and mixing it up with as many different types of these foods as you can.
Our tips can help you find the plant-based path to your best health:
Get cold. In most cases, frozen vegetables and fruit are as nutritious as fresh. Try adding frozen blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and cranberries to morning oatmeal or cereal. Use chopped, mixed vegetables, or add a bag of mixed, frozen vegetables to soups, casseroles, or stir fries for dinner if you’re in a time crunch.
Snack smart. Instead of your usual apple or banana, mix it up by snacking on a handful of almonds or walnuts mixed with different dried fruits. Rotate between cranberries, currants, raisins, apricots, figs, dates, and dried apples or mangoes.
Vary the veggies. Add different, colorful vegetables into stir fries. Try colorful bell peppers, red and white cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, carrots, and bok choy.
Dip deliciously. Snack on raw vegetables with hummus or yogurt dip. Try bell peppers, celery, radishes, cucumbers, carrots, jicama, endive, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, and sugar snap peas.
(Diabetes Care; published online before print April 3, 2012; doi: 10.2337/dc11-2388)
Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.