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Diabetes and healthier fat choices

When you have diabetes, it is important to think about the amount and type of fat you eat. Read on to learn about the role of fat in diabetes management and how to make healthier fat choices.

What is the role of fat in diabetes?

Eating a high fat diet can raise blood cholesterol and triglycerides, which increases the risk for heart disease and stroke. People with diabetes often have high blood cholesterol and triglycerides, and already have a two to three times higher risk of heart disease and stroke than the general public.

What types of fat should I eat? 

Choose unsaturated fats most often. These include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats can help lower cholesterol levels. Monounsaturated fats are healthy fats naturally found in olive and canola oil, non-hydrogenated margarines, avocados and nuts like almonds, pistachios, pecans and cashews. Polyunsaturated fats are healthy fats that include omega-3 and omega-6 fats:

  • Omega-3 fats are found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout, herring and sardines.  They are also found in flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, soybeans, soybean oil, canola oil, walnuts and some non-hydrogenated margarine.  Omega-3 fats may also be added to eggs, milk products and some juices. 
  • Omega-6 fats are found in safflower, sunflower and corn oils.  They are also found in nuts and seed such as almonds, pecans, Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds. 

What types of fats should I avoid? 

Avoid saturated fat. Some saturated fats have been linked to a higher risk of heart disease. Saturated fat is found in foods from animals such as:

  • Butter
  • Hard margarine
  • Lard and shortening
  • Fatty cuts of meat
  • Poultry with the skin on
  • Higher fat milk, cheese and yogurt
  • Tropical oils, including coconut and palm kernel oils

Trans fat is also an unhealthy fat. It is most often found in convenience foods, fried foods and processed foods like packaged salty snacks. 

How much fat should I eat? 

Have a small amount (2 to 3 Tbsp) of unsaturated fat (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat) each day. This amount includes any oil you use for cooking and any salad dressings, non-hydrogenated margarine and mayonnaise you use.

How do I choose healthier fat choices? 

Tips for cooking or baking: 

  • Use healthier fats like olive, soybean or canola oil when cooking and baking. 
  • Use small amounts of oil or non-hydrogenated margarine instead of hard margarine, lard, shortening or butter. 
  • Go light on spreads, dips and dressings – use just enough to taste. 
  • Cook with methods that use little fat, like roasting, broiling, grilling or steaming. 
  • Use non-stick pans or a non-stick vegetable oil spray. 
  • Use low sodium broth instead of oil when sautéing foods like stir-fries. 
  • Choose lean cuts of meat and trim visible fat from meats and remove skin from poultry before cooking.  

Tips for making healthier food choices: 

  • Enjoy vegetables or fruit as snacks. They are naturally low in fat. At meals, fill half your plate with vegetables. 
  • Choose lower fat milk products more often:
    • Yogurt and cottage cheese with 2% or less milk fat (MF)
    • Cheese with less than 20% MF
    • Skim or 1% milk
  • Replace meat with legumes like chickpeas, lentils and dried beans several times a week.
  • Eat at least two servings of fatty fish each week. Try salmon, mackerel or trout for heart healthy omega-3 fats. One serving is 75 grams (2 ½ oz) or the size of a deck of cards when it’s cooked.
  • Enjoy 60 mL (1/4 cup) of unsalted nuts or seeds a few times each week.  Try almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, cashews, sunflower or pumpkin seeds.

Dine out often? Restaurant foods can be high in fat. Check out these tips for making healthier choices when eating out. For more great meal ideas: Download the Diabetes Menu Plan for Prevention and Management and try these healthy recipes. For more snack ideas: See our healthy small snacks and large snacks for people with diabetes.  

How do I choose healthier fat choices when grocery shopping? 

Look at the percent Daily Value (% DV) on the Nutrition Facts Table. Aim for foods that have 5% DV or less for saturated and trans fat. To learn more about reading food labels, watch these videos.

Bottom line 

Choosing healthier fat options is important when you have diabetes. For help with meal planning, speak to a Registered Dietitian at EatRight Ontario at 1-877-510-510-2 or email us your questions. We can also send you meal ideas for a variety of cultures and languages.

You may also be interested in: 

Decoding the Nutrition Label: Tips for people with diabetes
Diabetes and healthy meal planning
Diabetes Menu Plan for prevention and management
Recipe makeover: Reducing fat in the kitchen

Last Update – October 9, 2016

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If you have questions about what you've read here, or other questions about food, nutrition or healthy eating, click to email our Registered Dietitians or call 1-877-510-5102.