New study explains why some fats are helpful and others harmful to type 2 diabetics

Many individuals are told to increase their intake of beneficial fatty acids like omega-3s while limiting their consumption of saturated fats, which are known to contribute to inflammation and various chronic diseases. But why are some fats considered beneficial while others so harmful?

A recent study published in the journal Cell explains that the difference in the health effects of various fats has to do with the way they activate certain structures on cells. This can either disrupt or aid in regulatory processes that are involved in metabolism.

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego found that saturated fats, which are mainly found in animal foods, have structures that activate receptors in cells known as Jun kinases. Activation of these receptors has previously been shown to increase a person's risk of developing type 2 diabetes or heart disease.

Conversely, polyunsaturated fatty acids have structures that block the activation of these cellular receptor sites, thereby offering a degree of protection against cardio-metabolic diseases.

Far more than simply answering a question that has been on the mind of scientists for decades, the findings could lead to the development of new medications that help individuals avoid obesity and its related conditions, the researchers said. Given the scale of the obesity and type 2 diabetes epidemics, this could represent a significant breakthrough.

However, until such a medication can be developed, individuals at risk for type 2 diabetes may benefit from consuming a diet that is rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, while limiting their intake of saturated fats. Several varieties of fish, including salmon, tuna and krill, are among the best sources of unsaturated fats. A number of plant foods like kale and collards also have high levels of the beneficial fats.