Diabetes: Risks

Why is type II diabetes a problem?

Type II diabetes increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke and could potentially lead to amputation of legs or feet due to nerve damage and narrowing of the arteries. Diabetes also increases the risk of eye complications such as blindness and other vision problems. Diabetes also increases the risk of kidney disease, thus leading to kidney damage potentially leading to kidney failure and dialysis. (Center for Disease Control and prevention, 2016a).

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Can being overweight increase my risk of developing diabetes?

Yes, according to the Center for Disease Control and prevention (2017d) being overweight is the leading risk factor for type II diabetes.

The numbers above represent the changing landscape of obesity in the United States over the last 20 years, 1994-2014. Each color represent the percentage of individuals who are classified as obese, having a BMI greater than or equal to 30.


The two graphs show the changing landscape in the United Sates and the link between obesity and the risk of developing type II diabetes.

Nutritionfacts.org – The Spillover Effect Links Obesity to Diabetes

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What type of fat increases the risk of developing Insulin Resistance?

According to Estadella et al., (2013), “the ingestion of excessive amounts of saturated fatty acids and trans fatty acids is considered to be a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, insulin resistance, dyslipidemia, and obesity” (P. 1). This corroborates research conducted by Lichenstein and schwab (2000), who found that “saturated fat, relative to monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat, appears to be more deleterious with respect to fat-induced insulin sensitivity” (p. 227). While fat is vital macronutrient within the human diet, the types of fat and amount of fat consumed have an a impact on our health but those fats that have the greatest impact, saturated fats and trans fats, are predominantly found in meat and dairy as well as refined oils according to Estadella et al. (2013, p. 1).

In an effort to improve insulin sensitivity in all individuals, especially those suffering from prediabetes and diabetes, it would be advantageous to reduce, and further eliminate, the consumption of high fat animal-based foods from the diet. High fat animal-based foods include meat and dairy products. For those who may be suffering from diabetes and are following a vegetarian or vegan diet, decrease the amount of high fat plant-based foods from the diet. High fat plant-based foods would include oils, processed foods containing oils, and nuts, seeds and avocado. If the consumption of high fat foods can lead to insulin sensitivity and insulin resistance, it is only telling that removing these foods from the diet may reduce the risk and possibly reverse or lessen insulin sensitivity in susceptible individuals.

A similar goal of reducing the intake of trans fats was recently implemented by the Food and Drug Administration ([FDA], 2015). The FDA proposed a ban removing partially hydrogenated oils, which are a synthetic man-made form of trans fat, from the food supply due to the link of increasing the risk of heart disease. According to Susan Mayne, Director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition FDA (2015) “Trans fat wouldn’t be completely gone Mayne notes, because it also occurs naturally in meat and dairy products” (para. 6). According to Mayne, FDA (2015), trans fat “is also present at very low levels in other edible oils, where it is unavoidably produced during the manufacturing process” (para. 6). Therefore, to reduce the risk of consuming trans fats, eliminating animal-based foods, processed foods, and edible oils from the diet should be the primary goal.

While researchers have shown that fat, especially saturated and trans fat, increase muscle insulin sensitivity, research has also shown that excessive free fatty acids within the blood can be detrimental to pancreatic beta-cells and has been shown to cause death to the beta-cells through lipoapoptosis (Estadella et al., 2013).

Lipo = fat, apoptosis= cell death. Cell death due to increased fat in the diet.

This coincides with Kraegen and Cooneys’ (2008) research stating that beta-cell failure can occur decades before diabetes complications occur in patients. The consumption of animal-based fat decreases beta cell function in individuals regardless of complications with diabetes. Thus, the consumption of high fat animal foods have a detrimental effect on our beta cells. Lichtenstein and Schwab (2000), found that “in humans, high-fat diets, independent of fatty acid profile, have been reported to result in decreased insulin sensitivity” (p. 227). Yet, according to Unger et al., (2010) research claims that “fatty acid derivatives can interfere with the function of the cell and ultimately lead to its demise through lipoapoptosis, the consequences of which are gradual organ failure” (para. 1). The affected organs that contribute to metabolic disorders are skeletal muscle, liver, heart and pancreas (Unger et al., 2010). Thus, decreasing overall fat intake predominantly animal-based foods, but even plant-based foods may be beneficial and could be the best strategy for controlling type II diabetes.

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