A new study tells us that if we are avoiding fruit due to the fact that it contains fructose or naturally occurring sugar, that may be a terrible idea, especially if the goal is to prevent or lower your risk of type 2 diabetes.

An estimated 374 million people globally have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and 88 million Americans have prediabetes,  a dangerous condition that can lead to diabetes, with few symptoms, so most people with the condition don't even know it. Type 2 diabetes puts your body's insulin system in overdrive, and more insulin means that it becomes less effective in helping your body to regulate and utilize sugar (glucose) as fuel.

This causes high levels of sugar in the bloodstream and ultimately weight gain, poor circulation and can lead to severe health failure including blindness, amputation, and kidney failure. Want to decrease the chances of ever developing this? (And who doesn't?) A new study shows an easy way to slash your type 2 diabetes risk.

Since there isn’t a cure for type 2 diabetes, the main way to avoid or manage the condition is through diet and exercise. This leads to some individuals cutting back on, or even eliminating carbohydrate-rich foods since they are loaded with sugar and can spike your blood sugar.

A new June 2021 study states that you don’t want to skip out on the benefits that eating whole fruits can bring when it comes to decreased diabetes risk — even if they do contain carbohydrates.

How our body changes when prediabetic or diabetic

There are two problems that lead to type 2 diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic, First, your pancreas has to work overtime to keep up with sugar intake and eventually it can't produce enough insulin to help the body send glucose off to the cells (to be used or stored as fat) and it starts to malfunction Second, your cells don’t respond properly to insulin–your body may become insulin resistant, meaning the cells stop listening to this important hormonal messenger–and the cells take in less sugar, possibly because they already have enough fuel. Both of these problems lead to glucose staying in the bloodstream too long and in abundance, with no way to exit, get stored, or be utilized.

The reason behind why these problems occur is unknown, but there are several risk factors that increase your odds of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. They include:

  • Overweight or obesity
  • Higher abdominal fat distribution
  • Being inactive
  • Family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Older age

Whole fruit consumption can lower risk of type 2 diabetes

A 2021 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism studied data from 7,675 participants from the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute’s Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study. This study provided information on the participants' fruit and fruit juice intake via a food frequency questionnaire.

“We found people who consumed around two servings of fruit per day had a 36 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes over the next five years than those who consumed less than half a serving of fruit per day,” concluded study author, Nicola Bondonno, Ph.D., in an interview. “We did not see the same pattern for fruit juice. These findings indicate that a healthy diet and lifestyle which includes the consumption of whole fruits is a great strategy to lower your diabetes risk.”

The reason behind this decreased risk had to do with insulin sensitivity. Those who consumed more whole fruits produced less insulin to lower their blood glucose levels. “This is important because high levels of circulating insulin (hyperinsulinemia) can damage blood vessels and are related not only to diabetes, but also to high blood pressure, obesity, and heart disease,” stated Bondonno in the same interview.

Fruit juice may actually increase diabetes risk

Although the recent study found that fruit juice didn’t have the same beneficial outcome as whole fruits, other studies have linked naturally sweetened beverages (such as 100 percent fruit juice) with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

The 2019 study published in Diabetes Care analyzed data from other studies conducted on both men and women for over 22 to 26 years. In these studies, researchers gave the participants questionnaires to find out how often they consumed certain foods and beverages. When researchers broke down the results, they were able to see how often participants drank sugar drinks and calculate changes to their drink consumption patterns.

The results of these studies found that those who increased their total intake of soft drinks with added sugars and naturally sweet fruit drinks by 4 ounces per day over the course of 4 years had an increase of diabetes risk by 16 percent over the next 4 years.

Due to these results, the researchers caution against drinking sweet beverages of any kind — even those made of 100 percent fruit juice. Instead, these types of beverages should be replaced with water or unsweetened beverages like coffee or tea. The same study found that replacing one daily serving of sugary drinks with unsweetened drinks can decrease type 2 diabetes risk by 2 percent to 10 percent.

Other diabetes prevention strategies

Adding whole fruits to your daily routine is one step toward the prevention of diabetes, but there are many more ways to decrease your risk even further.

Harvard Health recommends four dietary changes to consider when looking to prevent type 2 diabetes. This includes:

  • Choosing whole grains over refined grains and other highly processed carbohydrate foods
  • Avoiding sugary drinks and choosing water, coffee, or tea instead
  • Choosing healthy fats, such as nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils
  • Limiting or eliminating red and processed meats (one study found that a 3 ounce serving of red meat daily could increase the risk of type 2 diabetes by 20 percent.)

Staying active and aiming to get in the recommended physical activity of 150 minutes or more each week can impact both your overall health and your decreased risk of type 2 diabetes.

The combination of a healthy diet and exercise could lead to weight loss, which has been known to help delay or prevent prediabetes from turning into type 2 diabetes. Even a small amount of weight loss (about 5 percent to 7 percent of your body weight) can drastically decrease your odds of developing type 2 diabetes.