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Low-Fat Diet May Help Prevent Diabetes

If you have members who are at risk for developing diabetes, a low-fat diet may help them to improve their glucose tolerance, and thus reduce their risk for diabetes.

Researchers from the University of Auckland in New Zealand studied the effects of a low-fat diet on 136 people with impaired glucose tolerance, or a decline in the body’s ability to remove sugar from the blood and use it for fuel, which is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes (Diabetes Care 24: 619-624, 2001). Participants were instructed to follow either their regular diet, or a diet with reduced fat intake, for one year. People in the reduced-fat group also participated in monthly small-group educational sessions to help them lower their fat intake. Participants were weighed and measured at the end of the study and up to five years later.

After one year, participants in the low-fat group, who also exercised more, unsurprisingly lost more weight. And although 47 percent of that group had impaired glucose tolerance or diabetes, 67 percent of participants in the regular-diet group did. By the fifth year, there weren’t significant differences between the two groups, except for the 50 percent of people in the low-fat group who adhered most closely to the diet and continued to have lower blood glucose levels.

The study’s findings were not only significant for the role of a low-fat diet on lowering diabetes risk, but also for the impact of the education and support program. Researchers suggested that this program was the key to participants’ success, as it helped them to maintain lifestyle changes, including exercise.

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