Eat Your C for Better Health

It may not be news that a healthy diet plays a role in keeping type 2 diabetes at bay, but exactly which dietary components are most important is less well understood. A new study sheds light on this question, suggesting that eating more fruit and vegetables rich in vitamin C is one way to reduce diabetes risk.

Make vitamin C a priority

These findings come out of the European Prospective Investigation of Cancer–Norfolk (EPIC–Norfolk) study, a long-term research effort focused on determining how nutrition and lifestyle factors affect risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

To arrive at the latest results, researchers collected diet information and blood samples from 21,831 men and women aged 40 to 75 years, who lived in Norfolk, England, and were free of diabetes at study enrollment. Researchers tracked new cases of diabetes in the group during 12 years of follow-up.

Study participants with the highest blood levels of vitamin C were 62% less likely to develop diabetes than those with the lowest vitamin C levels. Men and women who ate the most fruit and vegetables were 22% less likely to develop diabetes than those who ate the least. When considering fruit separately, the researchers found that people consuming the most fruit were 30% less likely to develop diabetes than those consuming the least.

The finding that vitamin C levels are more strongly correlated with reduced diabetes risk than fruit and vegetable intake may lead you to conclude that a supplement is the answer, but avoid this trap: The study authors note that errors are common when measuring what people eat and approximately 90% of the vitamin C intake in the study group came from fruit and vegetables, not dietary supplements. The study authors conclude that the results, “re-endorse the public health message of the beneficial effect of increasing total fruit and vegetable intake.”

Getting the C you need from food

Vitamin C is important for reducing diabetes risk, but where you get this superstar nutrient is even more critical. Use the following tips to “C” your way to better health.

• Start your day with fruit. Add frozen fruit to your oatmeal. The hot cereal will thaw the fruit and you’ll get a dose of vitamin C.

• Try frozen and fresh. Fresh fruit is terrific when in season, but don’t shy away from frozen. A half cup of frozen peaches provides more than 100% of daily C and a half cup of strawberries provides more than 50%.

• Enjoy citrus. Try oranges, tangerines, and even lemons. A squeeze of lemon juice into your tea or water is an easy way to add C into your diet.

• Don’t skip veggies. Many focus on fruit for vitamin C, but red, yellow, and green peppers; broccoli; Brussels sprouts; and even kohlrabi contain ample C.

• Avoid boiling veggies. This can remove vitamin C; instead, steam, sauté, and stir-fry.

• Go tropical. Papayas, mangos, and pineapple all are excellent sources of vitamin C.

(Arch Intern Med 2008;168:1493–9)

Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD

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