Health Tips > Nutrition Bites > Combat Diabetes with the Right Types of Fat

Combat Diabetes with the Right Types of Fat

View All Section Pages

Combat Diabetes with the Right Types of Fat

We know carbohydrates raise blood sugars, but what is the relationship between fat and blood sugars? When you have diabetes it can be somewhat confusing to hear contradicting information about what to eat and what not to eat. Let’s clear up some of this confusion.
What is the role of carbohydrates?

Your brain, nervous system and muscles survive on carbohydrates (carbs) and need them to function. Carbs are naturally found in nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, starches and milk. They are also in nutrient-deficient foods that contain added sugars, such as sweets, desserts and sugary drinks. If you have diabetes, paying attention to consuming the right types and amounts of carbs is a key factor to maintaining healthy blood sugars.
When you eat carbohydrates they convert to glucose (sugar) in the body. Glucose is either used for immediate energy or is stored in the liver and muscles as an energy source for later. Your pancreas releases insulin which shuttles glucose into the cells. If your body doesn’t make enough insulin or it fails to work properly, your blood sugars can rise and stay high. Over time, excess glucose accumulates in the blood and causes damage to the entire body.
What is the role of fats?

Fat in the diet is used for the absorption of certain nutrients, insulation of vital organs and brain function. There are two main types of fats in the diet: saturated fat and unsaturated fat. In a nutshell, saturated fats are typically found in high-fat meats and dairy, while unsaturated fats are in most vegetable oils, nuts and fish. See the lists below for more examples of food containing saturated and unsaturated fats.
Research links saturated fats with heart disease because it raises the bad “LDL” cholesterol, but it can also indirectly raise blood sugars. Our bodies are made up of many cells, each surrounded by a lipid (fat) layer. Saturated fat hardens this layer and makes it difficult for insulin to deliver glucose into the cells. This may cause excess buildup of sugar in the blood. On the flip side, when you consume unsaturated fats, they help soften the lipid layer, making it more fluid for insulin to penetrate and store glucose into the cells. This promotes the proper metabolism of sugar.
If you have diabetes, it is ideal to consume less saturated fat. Saturated fat should comprise no more than 10 percent of your total calories per day. For example, if you are consuming 2,000 calories a day, try to limit your saturated fat to no more than 20 grams. This can add up fast, so beware. To make smarter choices, swap out foods high in unhealthy saturated fats for those with healthy unsaturated fats. Since all fats contain a significant amount of calories, be sure to watch portions, too. Below are some simple ways to reduce the amount of saturated fat you eat.
Saturated fats:

  • Higher-fat beef (85 percent lean ground meat, brisket, ribs)

  • Processed meats made from high-fat beef and pork

  • Lamb

  • High-fat pork (bacon, sausage, ribs)

  • Dark meat poultry

  • Animal fat (lard, skin of poultry)

  • Whole milk

  • Cream

  • Butter

  • Cheese

  • Some plant oils: palm oil, palm kernel oil and coconut oil

Unsaturated fats:

  • Most plant oils, including olive and canola oil

  • Olives

  • Avocados

  • Nuts and nut butters

  • Seeds

  • Fatty omega-3 rich fish (salmon, tuna, halibut)

Simple ways to slash saturated fat:

  • Spread 1 Tbsp. of almond butter on your toast instead of 1 Tbsp. of butter and save 6 grams of saturated fat

  • Sprinkle 1 oz. of nuts/seeds on your salad instead of 1 oz. cheddar cheese and reduce 3 grams of saturated fat

  • Pour 1 cup of fat-free milk on your cereal instead of 1 cup of whole milk to cut out 5 grams of saturated fat

  • Order an 8 oz. “dry grilled” salmon filet with lemon instead of a ribeye steak (cooked in butter) to slash 27 grams of saturated fat

  • Cook with 1 Tbsp. olive oil instead of 1 Tbsp. coconut oil to save 10 grams saturated fat.

  • Spread 1 Tbsp. of avocado slices on your turkey sandwich instead of real mayo to deduct more than 1 gram of saturated fat

  • Top a baked potato with 2 Tbsp. 0% fat plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream to omit 1.5 grams saturated fat

  • Use 1 Tbsp. unsweetened vanilla almond milk in your coffee instead of liquid creamer to save 1 gram of saturated fat

  • Savor a Greek frozen yogurt bar for dessert instead of a chocolate-dipped ice cream bar and slash almost 9 grams of saturated fat

The type and amount of fat you eat matters and impacts your body’s ability to effectively use insulin and manage your blood sugars. If you have prediabetes or diabetes, consult with a Cooper Clinic Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator to help you determine the best meal pattern and mix of nutrients to fit your needs and goals. Visit or call 972.560.2655 for more information.

Article provided by Elana Paddock, RDN, LD, CDE, Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services