NEW YORK - People who get a range of fruits and vegetables in their diets may have a somewhat decreased risk of type 2 diabetes, a new study suggests.
The findings, reported in the journal Diabetes Care, do not prove that eating your fruits and veggies will ward off type 2 diabetes - a disease closely associated with obesity and old age.
But researchers say the findings should give people yet more incentive to eat the way our mothers always told us.
The study of over 3,700 UK adults found that those who downed the most servings of fruit and vegetables in a week had a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes over 11 years, versus people who ate the fewest.
Diabetes risk was also lower among people who ate a wider variety of fruit and vegetables - regardless of the actual quantity they ate.
That suggests people should not only focus on how many servings they get each day, according to senior researcher Nita G. Forouhi, of the Institute of Metabolic Science in Cambridge, UK.
"The finding on variety of intake is new and exciting," she said in an email, "because it demonstrates that independent of the quantity consumed, we have the potential to gain additional and important benefits from choosing a mixture of different fruits and vegetables as part of a balanced diet."
For the study, Forouhi's team looked at data from 3,704 adults ages 40 to 79 that were part of a larger study on nutrition and chronic diseases.
Of those people, 653 developed type 2 diabetes over 11 years.
All of the study participants had kept a week-long food diary at the study's start. And Forouhi's team found that those who'd reported the highest combined fruit and vegetable intake were less likely to develop diabetes over the coming years.
Of the one-third with the highest intake - typically about six servings of fruit and vegetables per day - 16 per cent were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
That compared with 21 per cent of the one-third of participants with the lowest fruit and vegetable intake (about two servings per day).
That low-intake group closely matches the average American's diet. US studies suggest that adults typically get two to three servings of fruit and vegetables combined each day.
Of course, fruit and veggie lovers may be different from non-lovers in a number of ways, Forouhi acknowledged -- including weight, exercise levels, smoking habits and education.
But when her team accounted for those factors, a high intake of fruit and vegetables was still linked to a 21 per cent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
The researchers found a similar pattern when it came to variety. People who averaged 16 different types of fruit and vegetables per week were about 40 per cent less likely to develop diabetes than people who averaged eight types.
The findings do not prove that fruit and veggies deserve the credit. It's possible some other, unmeasured difference between study participants is at work, Forouhi said.
Still, the results underscore the standard diet advice for overall health: Eat your fruits and vegetables.
Variety may be key, Forouhi said, because that helps ensure you get a range of nutrients. That includes not only vitamins and minerals, but also fiber and plant compounds called phytochemicals, which are thought to help protect cells from damage that can lead to chronic disease.
People differ in how many servings of fruit and vegetables they need based on their weight or activity levels, for instance. But one common guideline is to go for four to five daily servings each of fruit and vegetables.
One serving is equal to a half-cup of cooked vegetables or a medium-sized piece of fresh fruit.
To get a good variety, Forouhi suggested incorporating a range of colors into your fruit-and-vegetable repertoire.
But, she added, that all needs to be part of a generally healthy lifestyle.
One of the biggest factors in type 2 diabetes risk is obesity. So experts generally advise maintaining a healthy weight by exercising regularly and watching calories.