Take a bite of out diabetes—eat more fruit. In spite of its sugar, fruit may actually reduce your risk of developing diabetes…and if you have the disease, help you live a longer and healthier life.

Background: The health benefits of eating fresh fruit are well-established—lots of potassium, fiber and antioxidants with few calories. But fruits are often high in sugar, so people with diabetes—and many others trying to stay healthy—often restrict how much they eat or skip it entirely. Surprisingly, there’s been little research on the effects of fruit consumption on the development, progression and complications of diabetes.

Study: Researchers from Peking University in Beijing, China, the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Oxford University in England teamed up to study 500,000 men and women, ages 35 to 74, from 10 urban and rural areas across China. At the start of the study, about 30,000 had diabetes, and everyone else was diabetes-free. Over the course of the seven-year study, there were nearly 10,000 new cases of diabetes. Among those who already had diabetes, 3,400 died and 11,000 developed cardiovascular disease.

Fruit consumption varied widely. Among people without diabetes, about 20% ate fruit every day—mainly apples and oranges. Another 10% ate fruit almost every day, 32% a few times a week and 34% once a month. About 6% never ate fruit.

Those who had been diagnosed diabetes were more likely to stay away from fruit—19% never ate fruit at all. In China, as in the US, people with diabetes often avoid fruit.

Findings: Among individuals without diabetes, eating fruit daily, compared to eating it once a month or never, was associated with a 12% lower risk for getting diabetes over seven years. In general, the more fruit people ate—including several servings a day—the less likely they were to get diabetes.

In those who already had diabetes, eating fresh fruit more than three days a week compared to eating it less than once a week was associated with a 17% reduced risk of dying from any cause. Much of that longevity came from fewer heart attacks and strokes.

Bottom line: Enjoy fruit! Dietary guidelines recommend about two or three servings a day. But you’ll still want to avoid fruit juice, which increases diabetes risk. If you already have diabetes, include fruit as one of your carbohydrate choices—and check out these tips for choosing the best fruits.

Looking for fruit-based desserts with no added sugar? Try these Delicious Fruit Desserts with a Twist.