A High Intake of Vegetables HelpsLower The Risk of Diabetes

A higher intake of vegetables, but not fruits, significantly reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to a new study reported in the Journal of Nutrition.

The study, which involved 64,191 middle-aged Chinese women, showed that a high intake of vegetables — including cruciferous vegetables, green leafy vegetables, yellow vegetables, allium vegetables, tomatoes, and other vegetables — was associated with an almost 30 percent lower risk of diabetes compared to those who ate the lowest amounts. A high intake of fruits, on the other hand, was not associated with a reduced risk of diabetes.

Researchers from the Shanghai Cancer Institute and the Diabetes Research and Training Center in Nashville, recruited women between the ages of 40 and 70 and surveyed them about their food intakes. The participants were followed up for more than four years; during that time, 1,608 of the participants were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Those who consumed the highest amounts of vegetables (428 grams per day) were 28 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who ate the lower amount (121 grams per day). For some context, a cup of cooked cauliflower weighs approximately 50 grams.

Analysis revealed that the beneficial effects of vegetable consumption on the risk on type 2 diabetes “cannot be entirely explained by antioxidant vitamins, magnesium or fiber intake,” the researchers wrote. “Vegetables also contain other compounds… that might have an additive or synergistic effect on lowering the risk of [type 2 diabetes].

“We speculate that the high fructose content of fruit may counteract the protective effect of antioxidants, fiber, and other antidiabetic compounds of fruit,” the researchers also wrote.

This study is noteworthy because it’s one of a few to separately look at the different effects of fruit and vegetable intake on the risk of diabetes and whether specific subgroups of vegetables and fruits differentially affect type 2 diabetes risk. The study was conducted in Shanghai, China, where consumption of vegetables, is high. In addition, Asian populations traditionally have had a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity than Western populations. But that has been changing in recent years as their vegetable intake has decreased.

Study reference: Villegas R, Shu XO, Gao YT, et al. Vegetable but not fruit consumption reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes in Chinese women. Journal of Nutrition, 2008;138:574-580.

Melissa’s Comments:

This study backs up what I say in my books and counseling: Always emphasize non-starchy vegetables in your diet. Make them your primary source of carbohydrates. Include fruit (if tolerated) to a much lesser extent. Besides not offering extra protection against diabetes, eating too much fruit can increase blood triglycerides, a significant heart disease risk factor – something I have seen many times in my nutrition practice.

All types of vegetables evaluated in the study offered diabetes protection. The groups of vegetables that each showed reduced diabetes risks when eaten in higher amounts, included:

  • Cruciferous vegetables: Green cabbage, Chinese cabbage, white turnip
  • Green leafy vegetables: Greens, Chinese greens, spinach
  • Yellow vegetables: Sweet potatoes, carrots
  • Allium vegetables: Garlic, onions, green onions, chives
  • Tomatoes: Tomatoes
  • Other vegetables: Mushrooms, celery, eggplant, peppers, cucumbers, and others

That’s good news because even if you don’t like (or don’t tolerate) one group of vegetables, there are plenty of other groups that offer protection, too.

Another thing to keep in mind: In many areas of the world, fruit was not always available: it was only eaten in certain areas and at certain times of year. Vegetables, on the other hand, were eaten regularly throughout the year and in high amounts. Vegetables are the types of carbohydrates we evolved on and therefore the carbohydrates we’re most adapted to thrive on when eating in high amounts. (Furthermore, vegetables have plenty of beneficial, protective compounds in them that scientists haven’t figured out yet!)

© Copyright 2008 Melissa Diane Smith

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