People who often eat fresh fruit are at lower risk of developing diabetes and related major vascular complications than people who rarely eat fruit, a new study said Tuesday.
The findings, published in the U.S. journal PLOS Medicine, came from a seven-year study of half a million adults in China where fresh fruit consumption is much lower than in the United States and other developed countries.
“This is the first large prospective cohort study demonstrating clear beneficial associations of fresh fruit consumption with both development and progression of diabetes,” study author Huaidong Du from the University of Oxford said in a statement.
Although the health benefits of eating fresh fruit are well established, the sugar content of fruit has led to concerns about its potential harm for people with diabetes and consequently Chinese people diagnosed with diabetes tend to restrict their fruit intake.
In the new study, researchers from the University of Oxford, Peking University and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences studied 500,000 adults aged 35 to 74 years from 10 urban and rural areas across China, tracking their health through hospital records of illness and death registries.
During seven years of follow-up, the study found nearly 10,000 new cases of diabetes among participants who did not have the condition at the start of the study.
Among over 30,000 participants with pre-existing diabetes when they joined the study, there were 3,400 deaths and 11,000 cases of vascular diseases.
About 20 percent of the study participants reported eating fresh fruit daily, mainly apples or oranges, and six percent never or rarely ate fresh fruit.
The proportion of non-consumers was about three times higher in people with previously diagnosed diabetes than in those without diabetes: 19 percent vs six percent.
Compared with non-consumers, those who ate fresh fruit daily had a 12 percent lower risk of developing diabetes.
Among participants with diabetes, higher fresh fruit consumption also showed health benefits, with a 100g portion of fruit per day associated with 17 percent lower overall mortality, 13 percent lower risk of developing diabetes-related complications affecting large blood vessels such as ischaemic heart disease and stroke and 28 percent lower risk of developing complications affecting small blood vessels such as kidney and eye diseases.
“Our study provides strong supporting evidence for the existing dietary guidelines, including those for diabetes patients, that recommend a higher level of fresh fruit consumption,” said Zhengming Chen, a co-author from the University of Oxford.
“If this represents a real protective effect, it should help to improve prevention and management of diabetes in China and elsewhere.”