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The Saturated Fat that Helps Prevent Diabetes

A new study indicates that the people who eat high fat dairy products reduce their risk of developing diabetes. But eating a lot meat increases the risk.


Published just this month in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the study included 26,930 people from the Malmö Diet and Cancer Study in Sweden. During the 14 years of follow-up 2,860 people in the study were diagnosed with diabetes. Only the abstract is free online, but the lead author, Ulrika Ericson, a PhD nutritionist from Sweden’s Lund University, provided me with the full text of the study.

“Those who ate the most high-fat dairy products had a 23 per cent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who ate the least,” Dr. Ericson says. “High meat consumption was linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes regardless of the fat content of the meat.”

Different Types of Saturated Fat

The predominant type of fat in both dairy products and meat is saturated fat. So how could eating dairy products help protect against diabetes while eating meat adds to the risk?

The saturated fats in dairy products that protects against diabetes are short- and medium-chain fats, including lauric and myristic acids, the researchers found. The most common saturated fats are palmitic and stearic acids. These long-chain fats are predominant in meat and don’t protect against diabetes, the study also found.

Unraveling Our Understanding of Fat

Our understanding of the differences among types of fats has become increasingly sophisticated since Ancel Keys dammed all fat his infamous “Seven Countries Study” in 1970. Later, researchers concluded that it was only saturated fat, not monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat, that caused heart disease. Eventually, in 2010 a meta-analysis published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found no association between saturated fat intake and heart disease or stroke. Now, it appears that we had to distinguish the different types of fat even more.

This parallels our better understanding of cholesterol. First, the focus was on total cholesterol. Then, researchers began to realize that two types, HDL and LDL cholesterol, and quite different functions in our bodies. Now researchers are beginning to differentiate between large, fluffy LDL cholesterol and small, dense cholesterol.

The Implication for Coconut Oil

The new study of saturated fat focused only on the dairy products and meat. But it has wider implications.

The most important one may be for coconut oil, a saturated fat that is predominantly composed of lauric acid, the medium-chain fat that the Swedish researchers found protects against diabetes in dairy products. It already appeared that coconut oil is good for people with diabetes, and now we may be learning why.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

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  • Judy at

    Except for, folks who are allergic to dairy lactose or Casein. They always forget that part with their broad general statements.

  • Valerie at

    “The predominat type of fat in both dairy products and meat is saturated fat.”

    Not quite. MUFAs are more abundant than saturated fats in meat.

    • David Mendosa at

      You are probably right, Valerie. I just double checked one example, ground beef (hamburger), and see that MUFAs are a little more abundant than saturated fat. Thank you.