Background Epidemiologic studies suggest that greater consumption of fruit and vegetables may decrease the risk of diabetes mellitus, but the evidence is limited and inconclusive. Plasma vitamin C level is a good biomarker of fruit and vegetable intake, but, to our knowledge, no prospective studies have examined its association with diabetes risk. This study aims to examine whether fruit and vegetable intake and plasma vitamin C level are associated with the risk of incident type 2 diabetes.
Methods We administered a semiquantitative food frequency questionnaire to men and women from a population-based prospective cohort (European Prospective Investigation of Cancer–Norfolk) study who were aged 40 to 75 years at baseline (1993-1997) when plasma vitamin C level was determined and habitual intake of fruit and vegetables was assessed. During 12 years of follow-up between February 1993 and the end of December 2005, 735 clinically incident cases of diabetes were identified among 21 831 healthy individuals. We report the odds ratios of diabetes associated with sex-specific quintiles of fruit and vegetable intake and of plasma vitamin C levels.
Results A strong inverse association was found between plasma vitamin C level and diabetes risk. The odds ratio of diabetes in the top quintile of plasma vitamin C was 0.38 (95% confidence interval, 0.28-0.52) in a model adjusted for demographic, lifestyle, and anthropometric variables. In a similarly adjusted model, the odds ratio of diabetes in the top quintile of fruit and vegetable consumption was 0.78 (95% confidence interval, 0.60-1.00).
Conclusions Higher plasma vitamin C level and, to a lesser degree, fruit and vegetable intake were associated with a substantially decreased risk of diabetes. Our findings highlight a potentially important public health message on the benefits of a diet rich in fruit and vegetables for the prevention of diabetes.