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Dr. Zorba Paster: More fruit and veggies to reduce diabetes risk

Dr. Zorba Paster: More fruit and veggies to reduce diabetes risk


Dear Doc: I’ve suffered from depression for years and years. I’ve been on lots of antidepressants. They work, but I still don’t feel like I think I should.

A friend of mine said she takes lithium that she orders online, claiming she feels much better than she ever has. Any truth in this? – E.R., from Door County

Dear E.R.: Lithium has been used by psychiatrists for years to treat bipolar and other mood disorders. You can buy it over the counter, but not in the same strength as you get by prescription.

The history of this is quite fascinating. John Cade, an Australian psychiatrist, starting using this about 70 years ago, claiming it was an effective medicine.

As you can imagine, it was initially shunned by the psychiatric community as a “quack” cure, but they were wrong. It really works. Cade’s story is told in a book I read years ago titled “Lithium: A Doctor, a Drug and a Breakthrough,” by Dr. Walter Brown.

I’m not surprised psychiatrists shunned lithium. They shunned antidepressants back in the ’60s and ’70s when Freud and psychoanalysis captured the scene. People with catatonic depression were denied these medications because too many psychiatrists thought they needed behavioral counseling as the sole method of treatment. Now that was quackery. Fortunately, psychiatrists today do not have that archaic view. Medications and therapy go hand in hand when it comes to major depression and bipolar disorder.

Now, about your question. You certainly can try the over-the-counter stuff and see if it makes you feel better. But beware of side effects, which include shakiness, increased thirst and urination, reduced thyroid activity and, if you take too much, lithium toxicity. To see what that is, just Google it.

My spin: Which one to choose? I always go to It’s a pay-as-you-go service, but they test all kinds of vitamins and supplements for potency and price. Choose the on e that has the best price and the best potency and then try out the lowest dose and see what happens.

Fruits and veggies: Summer is the season. There’s so much good food at local farmers’ markets, many of which are open with modification, roadside stands and grocery stores.

And new research published in the British Medical Journal shows that increasing your fruit and vegetable intake might just lower your risk of getting diabetes by 25%. Considering the diabetic epidemic we’re in, that’s astounding.

Two studies here: The first looked at how vitamin C levels and carotenoids – the pigments found in colorful fruits such as cantaloupe, and vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes – were associated with the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. It turns out these two measurements are reliable indicators of fruit and veggie intake, more reliable than food diaries, which are notoriously wrong.

This was part of a huge study, 340,000 people in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC-InterAct) study from eight European countries. After adjusting for lifestyle, social and dietary risk factors for diabetes, blood levels of vitamin C and carotenoids and summing them up together, participants were given something called a “composite biomarker score.” The higher the score, the less the risk. Those who were in the top 20 of this score had a 50% lower risk of developing diabetes. Wow! Researchers estimated that just 2 ounces to 4 ounces of fruits and veggies a day could dramatically lower the risk of becoming a diabetic.

In the second study, researchers looked at whole grain food intake of 36,000 men and 158,000 women from the Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. After adjusting for lifestyle and risk factors for diabetes, participants in the highest category for total whole grain consumption had a 29% lower rate of type 2 diabetes compared with those in the lowest category.

For individual whole grain foods, the researchers found that consuming one or more servings a day of whole grain was associated with a 20% lower risk of getting diabetes. One example was oatmeal. Those who consumed two or more servings a week reduced their diabetic risk by nearly 15% compared to those who never at whole grains or high fiber cereal.

My spin: More fruits and veggies for me, and more whole grains and oatmeal for breakfast. Stay well.

This column provides general health information. Always consult your personal health care provider about concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort is implied or offered by Dr. Paster to people submitting questions. Any opinions expressed by Dr. Paster in his columns are personal and are not meant to represent or reflect the views of SSM Health.

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