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Eat your vegetables, reduce your risk of diabetes

piles of fresh vegetables at a farmers' market

Mom said, "Eat your vegetables."

What she didn't say (and probably didn't know at the time) was, "Eat your vegetables or risk developing diabetes."

I know from talking to my patients that most Americans aren't eating the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, which here in the US is 640-800 grams per day (about 22.5 - 28 ounces or between 6 1/2 and 8 servings). (Yes, the plural of anecdote is not data.)

In Sweden the recommended intake of fruits and vegetables is lower, with the minimum recommended intake an average of 500 grams/day, or 17.6 ounces (that's about 5 servings at 3 1/2 ounces each). According to a team of researchers in Sweden, on average the Swedes consume only about 126g per day of fruits and berries and only about 175.5g per day of vegetables (that includes legumes but does not include potatoes).

The authors of today's article surveyed over 35,000 adults in Stockholm County, where the capital of Sweden is located, via online or mail-in questionnaire - first in 2010 and then again in 2014 (J Nutr Sci 2020 9(e14) doi:10.1017/jns.2020.7).

The over 35,000 men and women whose responses were included in today's research were between the ages of 18 and 84, free from certain chronic conditions at the start of the study, and responded fully to both surveys, which gathered not only demographic and health information and history but also customary dietary intake.

Initially the authors had planned to break out the intake of fruits and vegetables separately into three increasing levels of intake each, but found that the participants ate so little fruits and vegetables that the best they could do was to break up the participants into those who consumed less than 2 servings per day versus those who consumed more than 2 servings per day. Indeed, the authors note that "Almost three-quarters of the respondents consumed fewer than two servings of vegetables per [day]."

(My wife read the article and quipped, "Maybe they're eating a lot of potatoes.")

The fruit and vegetable consumption of those who reported developing type 2 diabetes in the 2014 survey was then compared to the fruit and vegetable consumption of those who did not, taking into account gender, Body Mass Index, education, smoking status, and a number of other common variables.

While the authors could find no statistically significant relationship between fruit intake and diabetes risk, for men only they found that those who consumed less than 2 servings of vegetables per day were 162% more likely to develop diabetes than those who consumed 2 or more servings per day. Remember, this measure did not include potatoes, although they are indeed technically vegetables.

It's worth noting that that about 2/3 of male participants consumed less than 2 servings per day of vegetables, while the same was true for only 1/3 of female participants - which may explain why the results were applicable to men and not women.

What this means for you

In this study, consuming a minimum of two servings of vegetables a day made a huge difference in risk of diabetes, at least for men. That's not two more servings than you're consuming now - that's just two servings, period. Make sure you're getting your vegetables (and fruits) by piling your sandwich high with veggies like sprouts, lettuce, tomatoes, and peppers, and make sure to have a vegetable that's not a potato on the side at dinner.

Try a new vegetable side with these easy dishes:
Candied Carrots
Collard Greens
Creamed Peas
Garlic Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Herbed Zucchini
Roasted Cauliflower with Garlic [Low Sodium Roasted Cauliflower with Garlic]
Yellow Squash and Onions
All side dish recipes »

First posted: August 26, 2020