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Animal fat, saturated fatty acids associated with type 2 diabetes risk

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March 1, 2017

The risk for type 2 diabetes in adults is increased with consumption of animal fats and saturated fatty acids, published findings show.

“These findings may provide a deeper insight into the recommendations for dietary guidelines regarding the type of dietary fat to be consumed at a population level,” Marta Guasch-Ferré, PhD, a research fellow in the department of nutrition, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told Endocrine Today. “Moreover, these recommendations could be useful for the treatment and prevention of diabetes in the clinical setting for patients with diabetes or at high risk.”

Guasch-Ferré and colleagues evaluated data from the PREDIMED study on 3,349 adults (mean age, 67 years) without type 2 diabetes but at high risk for cardiovascular disease to determine the relationships between total fat, subtypes of dietary fat and food sources rich in saturated fatty acids and the incidence of type 2 diabetes. Participants were assigned to a Mediterranean diet group (n = 2,279) or control group (n = 1,070). Follow-up was a median of 4.3 years.

Overall, there were 266 incident cases of type 2 diabetes. At baseline, mean intake of total fat was 38.33% in the Mediterranean diet group and 37.95% in the control group; at 3 years, it increased to 40.71% in the Mediterranean diet group and decreased to 37.4% in the control group.

Participants in the top quartile of baseline total fat intake had a higher right for type 2 diabetes than those in the reference quartile in the multivariable model (HR = 1.69; 95% CI, 1.12-2.54); similar results for found for polyunsaturated fats (HR = 1.56; 95% CI, 1.03-2.35) and vegetable fat (HR = 1.62; 95% CI, 1.07-2.47). There was no association between risk for type 2 diabetes and baseline saturated fatty acid and animal fat intake.

When using yearly updated saturated fatty acid intake, there was a higher risk for type 2 diabetes in participants in the highest quartile updated saturated fatty acid compared with the first quartile (HR = 2.19; 95% CI, 1.28-3.73). The risk for type 2 diabetes was twofold higher with a 5% energy increment from saturated fatty acid intake (HR = 2.14; 95% CI, 1.3-3.52). Type 2 diabetes was associated with higher saturated fatty acid intake in the Mediterranean diet group but not the control group.

In the total population, the risk for type 2 diabetes was strongly associated with animal fat intake (HR = 2; 95% CI, 1.29-3.09), and each 5% increase in energy intake was associated with a 26% increased risk for type 2 diabetes (HR = 1.26; 95% CI, 1.05-1.53).

“Those participants who consumed higher amounts of saturated fatty acids and animal fat had a twofold higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those participants with a lower intake of saturated and animal fat,” Guasch-Ferré said. “The consumption of 12 g per day of butter was associated with a twofold higher risk of diabetes after 4.5 years of follow-up, whereas the intake of whole-fat yogurt was associated with a lower risk. These findings emphasize the healthy benefits of a Mediterranean diet for preventing chronic diseases, particularly type 2 diabetes, and the importance of substituting saturated and animal fats — especially red and processed meat — for those found in vegetable sources such as olive oil and nuts.” – by Amber Cox

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Marta Guasch-Ferré, PhD, can be reached at

Disclosure: Guasch-Ferré reports no relevant financial disclosures. Please see the full study for a list of all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.