According to the American Diabetes Association, there are 29 million Americans who live with Diabetes, 90-95% of which have type 2 diabetes, and 86 million more are currently at risk of developing diabetes.

While individuals may be genetically predisposed to developing Type 2 diabetes, a dietary lifestyle that is high in fat (especially saturated fat) could be the trigger for diabetes to rear its ugly head.

Why Does Type 2 Diabetes Occur?

Type 2 diabetes occurs when sugar has a hard time getting into the body’s cells. Blood sugar rises, and the typical recommendation is to limit consumption of carbohydrates (which, ultimately break down into sugar, aka glucose). However, the latest nutrition research reveals another piece of the puzzle that must be included into the conversation.

As illustrated below, when we eat high-fat diet (when fat calories are >20% of total calories and come from meat, dairy, oils, or processed foods) little, teeny, tiny, fat globules may build up inisde our cells. This is different than the type of fat we try to exercise (or wish or pray) away. Ever wonder why there are individuals who are diagnosed with diabetes who are as thin as a toothpick? This is why. A high-fat diet can result in high-fat cells.

In a person with type 2 diabetes:

  •  After eating, glucose enters the bloodstream
  •  Insulin attempts to escort glucose into the muscle cell for energy
  •  Those with type 2 diabetes have higher levels of fat inside of the muscle cells.1
  •  The fat inside of the cells resists insulin’s attempts to bring glucose into the cell.1 This is called insulin resistance
  •  Glucose stays in the blood and blood sugar raises.

In a person without diabetes:

  •  After eating, glucose enters the bloodstream
  • Insulin escorts glucose into the muscle cell for energy or storage
  • Glucose enters the muscle cell and blood sugar reduces

How does a high-fat diet affect our cells?

When there is a build up of fat inside our cells, it acts like gum jamming up a lock. Insulin, the key, cannot open the door which will ultimately let glucose into the cell so we can go about our daily lives. Subsequently, glucose builds up in our blood stream. Over time, chronically high blood glucose levels will cause inflammation and can affect the vessels of the eye, kidneys, and limbs. For a person diagnosed with pre-diabetes or diabetes, finding ways to add more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans can totally change the trajectory of your life.

Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes

  • High fat diet, with calories coming predominantly from meat, dairy, oils, & processed foods
  • Overweight – being overweight is the primary risk factor
  • Fat distribution primarily in the abdomen
  • Family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Those who have pre-diabetes or have had gestational diabetes

The Benefits of a Plant-Based/Vegan Diet on Type 2 Diabetes

By reducing fat intake, increasing dietary fiber, and increasing vegetable protein, you can help battle insulin resistance. This could mean blood sugar control and reduction or even elimination of medications.

Nutrition Intervention to the Rescue! Type 2 Diabetes Success Stories

JasonBenjamin, and Barbara have all watched their A1C, glucose, and weight plummet and ultimately saved money by decreasing, or eliminating, their monthly medications. For those who have made a conscious effort to eat more meals centered around whole, plant-based foods, they found they have traded the side effects of medication for the side effects of better health.

Learning how to use familiar foods in new ways and exploring new foodsis key for moving closer to your health goals. Learning how to read food labels, properly pre-prepping food, and preparing plant-based foods quickly and deliciously can be the difference between being at the mercy of medications and doctors visits or in control of how your money and time is spent.


This blog post was written by Karen Chaska, University of North Florida graduate student and dietetic intern.


  1. Kuhlmann J, Neumann-Haefelin C, Belz U, et al. Intramyocellular lipid and insulin resistance. 2003 Jan; 52(1): 138-144.
  2. Barnard ND, Katcher HI, Jenkins DJA, et al. Vegetarian and vegan diets in type 2 diabetes management. Nutrition Reviews. 2009; 67(5): 255-263.
  3. Lee YM, Kim SA, Kim JG, et al. Effect of a brown rice based vegan diet and conventional diabetic diet on glycemic control of patients with type 2 diabetes: a 12 week randomized clinical trial. PLoS ONE. 2016; 11(6): 1-14.
  4. Rinaldi S, Campbell EE, Fournier J, et al. A comprehensive review of the literature supporting recommendations from the Canadian Diabetes Association for the use of a plant-based diet for management of type 2 diabetes. Can J Diabetes. 2016; 40: 471-477.