Eating More 'Healthy Fats' May Lower Diabetes Risk

Olive oil and olives
(Image credit: tetxu/

Replacing some of the meat and cheese in your diet with vegetable oils or nuts could help slow the progression of diabetes in some people, according to a small new study.

People with "prediabetes" have levels of blood sugar, or glucose, that are higher than normal but not high enough to warrant being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. In 2012, 86 million Americans age 20 and older had prediabetes, and 29.1 million had diabetes, with the vast majority of the cases being type 2, according to the American Diabetes Association.

In the new study, researchers found that, in people with a type of prediabetes in which muscles do not take up glucose properly, eating more of so-called polyunsaturated fat, which is found in vegetable oils and nuts, and less saturated fat, found in meat and cheese, seemed to improve certain factors related to the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

"The findings suggest that increasing dietary intake of polyunsaturated fats may have a beneficial effect for patients with a certain type of prediabetes," study co-author Nicola Guess, a diabetes researcher at King's College London, said in a statement. [9 Healthy Habits You Can Do in 1 Minute (Or Less)]

In the study, the researchers looked at 14 endurance-trained athletes, 23 obese people, 10 people with prediabetes and 11 people with type 2 diabetes. The researchers tested the people's blood sugar levels and the levels of fatty acids in their blood. The participants also filled out a questionnaire about their diet, and from this, the researchers calculated how much saturated fat and polyunsaturated fat they had consumed in the past three months.

Among the people who had a type of prediabetes in which glucose uptake into muscles is impaired, those who ate more polyunsaturated fat, and less saturated fat, had higher levels of insulin sensitivity. This would likely translate into a lower risk of developing full-blown diabetes, the researchers said. (People with low insulin sensitivity require greater amounts of insulin to keep their blood sugar levels in check, and therefore may require insulin injections.)

Among the people with a type of prediabetes in which the liver produces too much glucose, consuming less saturated fat also seemed to be beneficial for their insulin sensitivity. However, consuming more polyunsaturated fat did not seem to affect their insulin sensitivity, which means it would likely have no effect on slowing the progression of their prediabetes, the researchers said.

More research is needed to determine exactly how much polyunsaturated fat may be beneficial for patients with the type of prediabetes in which glucose uptake into muscles is impaired, the researchers said.

Previous research has suggested that getting about 12 percent of your total daily calories from polyunsaturated fat is optimal, Guess told Live Science.

The researchers noted that the new study was small and that further research with more participants is needed to confirm the results.

The new study was published March 21 in the journal PLOS ONE.

Follow Agata Blaszczak-Boxe on Twitter. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Originally published on Live Science.

Staff Writer