Effect of diet composition on insulin sensitivity in humans

Clin Nutr ESPEN. 2019 Oct:33:29-38. doi: 10.1016/j.clnesp.2019.05.014. Epub 2019 Jun 6.


Diet composition has a marked impact on the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Prospective studies show that dietary patterns with elevated amount of animal products and low quantity of vegetable food items raise the risk of these diseases. In healthy subjects, animal protein intake intensifies insulin resistance whereas plant-based foods enhance insulin sensitivity. Similar effects have been documented in patients with diabetes. Accordingly, pre-pregnancy intake of meat (processed and unprocessed) has been strongly associated with a higher risk of gestational diabetes whereas greater pre-pregnancy vegetable protein consumption is associated with a lower risk of gestational diabetes. Population groups that modify their traditional dietary habit increasing the amount of animal products while reducing plant-based foods experience a remarkable rise in the frequency of type 2 diabetes. The association of animal protein intake with insulin resistance is independent of body mass index. In obese individuals that consume high animal protein diets, insulin sensitivity does not improve following weight loss. Diets aimed to lose weight that encourage restriction of carbohydrates and elevated consumption of animal protein intensify insulin resistance increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The effect of dietary components on insulin sensitivity may contribute to explain the striking impact of eating habits on the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Insulin resistance predisposes to type 2 diabetes in healthy subjects and deteriorates metabolic control in patients with diabetes. In nondiabetic and diabetic individuals, insulin resistance is a major cardiovascular risk factor.

Keywords: Animal protein; Body mass index; Cardiovascular risk; Diabetes; Dietary pattern; Insulin resistance; Insulin sensitivity; Vegetable protein.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Proteins, Dietary
  • Animals
  • Body Composition
  • Body Mass Index
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / diet therapy
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / diet therapy
  • Diabetes, Gestational
  • Diet*
  • Diet, High-Protein
  • Diet, Vegan
  • Diet, Vegetarian
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insulin
  • Insulin Resistance*
  • Meat
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Weight Loss


  • Animal Proteins, Dietary
  • Insulin