March 27 is Diabetes Alert Day, a time to take the simple Diabetes Risk Test of the American Diabetes Association and reflect on the soaring numbers of type 2 diabetics. This distressing trend is fueled by America’s obesity epidemic, with diagnosed cases having increased 170% in the last decade alone. But it’s also an opportunity to refocus on prevention and care. Weight management is the most important factor in lowering the risk of diabetes and associated ailments such as heart disease, stroke, dementia, cancer and blindness. While fruits and veggies in general can help keep pounds at bay — science is singling out a particular food with potential benefit to diabetics: Dates.

Nerve damage affects up to 90% of diabetic patients, often resulting in skin ulcers, muscle weakness, pain and reduced physical mobility. Noting previous research on dates’ ability to protect nerves, Iranian researchers wanted to see whether the dried fruit might help mitigate diabetic nerve dysfunction. To test this out they put diabetic rats on a date extract diet for six weeks and then compared symptoms with various controls. The date-fed subjects enjoyed a full restoration of physical mobility (the same as non-diabetic rats), supporting a 67% increase in the amount of spontaneous physical activities, such as exploring, rearing and grooming. The date-diet also appeared to restore nerve function, improving the rate of nerve transmission by 53%.

Obviously more research is needed to explore whether such benefits would extend to humans, but meanwhile there’s plenty of reasons to dig dates: One cup chopped deglet noor dates provides 47% of your daily fiber, 12% of vitamin B6, 28% potassium, 19% manganese, 16% magnesium and 15% copper. While drying the fruit concentrates the energy, sweetness — and thus calories — those who snack on dried fruit daily have lower Body Mass Indices (BMIs), smaller waists and less body fat.

Bonus: Add broccoli to your anti-diabetes dietary arsenal. British researchers found that the broccoli compound sulforaphane helped protect blood vessels from diabetic damage, under laboratory conditions.
Published March 1, 2012