I have always encouraged enjoying a wide variety of whole fruits once you’re on Phase 2 of the South Beach Diet. Not only are most fruits high in fiber, many are good sources of phytonutrients, including the antioxidant flavonoids known as anthocyanins, which have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease.
Now a new study, published online on August 28 in BMJ (the British Medical Journal), which looked at the fruit consumption of 187,382 nurses and other health professionals in relation to diabetes risk, has found that people who ate at least two servings each week of certain whole fruits — particularly blueberries, grapes, and apples — reduced their risk for type 2 diabetes by as much as 23% compared to those who ate a serving of fruit less than once a month. Conversely, those who drank one or more servings of fruit juice each day increased their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by as much as 21%, probably due to the removal of key nutrients and fiber during the juicing process.
Keep in mind that there are two types of diabetes. About 90% of those with diabetes have type 2, which usually appears after the age of 40 and develops when the pancreas produces plenty of insulin but the body’s cells don’t respond to it. Eventually, the pancreatic cells “burn out” trying to overcome this insulin resistance. They start producing less insulin than required to control blood sugar, and type 2 diabetes results. Type 1 diabetes, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disease in which the pancreas stops producing insulin. It typically develops before age 30, and those who have this condition must take insulin for life.
Insulin is essential because it helps the body use a type of sugar called glucose, which it gets primarily from carbohydrates in food. Glucose provides energy for movement, growth, cell repair, and other functions. When insulin fails to move glucose from the blood into the cells in people with type 2 diabetes, blood sugar levels may spike after eating. Poor control of type 2 diabetes can lead to many long-term health complications that affect the heart, nerves, eyes, and kidneys.
The authors of this new study theorize that it may be the high levels of the anthocyanins in blueberries, grapes, and apples in particular that help to clear out excess glucose from the bloodstream and thus lower high blood sugar levels.
Whether or not this theory holds true, it’s a fact that consuming fruit in its whole form has major health benefits. On the South Beach Diet, we suggest eating as many as three fruits a day once you’re past the first couple of weeks on Phase 2. This is far more fruit than the number of servings per week cited in the study. And our recommendation for more certainly can’t hurt, as long as you continue to lose weight and your cravings don’t return.
So why not include an apple, some blueberries, and grapes in your daily fruit selection? It now appears these fruits can go a long way, as part of an overall healthy diet, toward keeping the risk of type 2 diabetes and its related health problems at bay.