Low-fat diet may be more important for lowering type 2 diabetes risk than losing weight

Doctors commonly advise overweight individuals who are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes to lose weight. However, a new study out of the University of Alabama at Birmingham suggests that this may not be the most important recommendation.

The researchers behind the study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that simply consuming less fat - regardless of whether or not this produces weight loss - may help individuals drastically reduce their type 2 diabetes risk.

For the study, a group of 69 individuals who were at risk for developing type 2 diabetes were put on one of two diets. The first asked participants to cut back on their carbohydrate intake, while the second limited fat consumption.

After eight weeks, the researchers found that those in the low-fat group had significantly improved insulin secretion, glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity. Overall, they appeared much less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those in the low-carbohydrate group.

These findings were particularly strong among African-American participants, a group that is traditionally at an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. These participants had even greater increases in insulin secretion after starting the low-fat diet.

Barbara Gower, PhD, the author of the study, said that her team's findings are important because the low-fat diet prescribed to the participants didn't ask them to make any radical dietary changes. The individuals simply had to make minor limitations to their daily fat intake. This could be a much easier dietary intervention for people to stick to than other proposed weight loss programs.

"People find it hard to lose weight," she said. "What is important about our study is that the results suggest that attention to diet quality, not quantity, can make a difference in risk for type 2 diabetes."