Fat Facts for Diabetics: How to Make Healthy Choices

Ever wondered why nutrition experts advise eating unsaturated fats rather than saturated ones? A recent American Diabetes Association-funded study explains how the body actually reacts differently to different kinds of fat.

The body's fat cells, researchers found, can sense and discriminate between the kinds of fatty acids, and saturated fatty acids can trigger a response that interferes with insulin function.

"These findings not only explain the long-standing enigma regarding the differential health effects of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids," said researcher Michael Karin, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Diego, according to the ADA. "They also provide improved tools and a mechanistic framework for the potential development of dietary supplements to treat obesity."

High levels of saturated fat in the body tend to be linked with obesity, according to the American Diabetes Association. And obesity can cause insulin resistance, which can then lead to Type 2 diabetes.

If you'd like to sub out sat fats and swap in the "good" unsaturated fats:

  • Trade whole milk and red meat for fat-free milk and fish, says Rachel Neifeld, RD, of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill-Cornell Medical Center in New York City. "Fish has the added benefit of a certain type of fat, omega-3 fatty acids, that are very good for you," she says.
  • Nuts are a great source of unsaturated fat, Neifeld says. "Ideally, you should eat them unsalted," she says. But, she warns, bear in mind that nuts are high in calories, so don't eat them in large quantities.
  • Cut down on the amount of butter in your diet and sub in olive oil. "Using olive oil in a homemade salad dressing is a good idea since olive oil can boost your HDL, which is the good cholesterol," Neifeld says. Avoid using coconut oil or palm kernel oil, however.
  • Avoid cheeses, which have saturated fat. Instead, snack on raw vegetables with a hummus dip, or try pretzels with hummus (but measure how many pretzels you're having since it's easy to overdo it.)
  • Avocados are a great source of unsaturated fat, although they're high in fat and calories.
  • Don't add unsaturated fats to your diet without getting rid of some saturated fat, advises Alejandra Cordovez, RD, of the Diabetes Research Institute in Miami, Florida. "Focus on substituting healthy fats for the unhealthy ones," she says. "But don't just start eating more nuts and olive oil in addition to the fat you already eat, or you may end up gaining weight."
  • Substitute almond butter or peanut butter for butter on an English muffin. "Buy natural peanut butter that has just peanuts and salt," Cordovez advises. "Avoid peanut butters made with hydrogenated vegetable oils."
  • Stick to healthy cooking methods like broiling or roasting, and avoid frying.
  • Replace creamy salad dressings such as ranch and blue cheese with vinegar-based dressings like a balsamic vinaigrette, Cordovez says.



Eftekhari, Almas. "Saturated vs. Unsaturated: why some fats are healthier than others." Diabetes Forecast. American Diabetes Association.

Holzer, R.G. et al. "Saturated Fatty Acids Induce c-Src Clustering within Membrane Subdomains, Leading to JNK Activation." 30 September 2011. Cell.