British Journal of Nutrition

Research Article

Diet composition and insulin action in animal models

Len H. Storliena1 c1, J. A. Higginsa1, T. C. Thomasa1, M. A. Browna1, H. Q. Wanga1, X. F. Huanga1 and P. L. Elsea1

a1 Metabolic Research Centre, Faculty of Health & Behavioural Sciences, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia

Abstract

Critical insights into the etiology of insulin resistance have been gained by the use of animal models where insulin action has been modulated by strictly controlled dietary interventions not possible in human studies. Overall, the literature has moved from a focus on macronutrient proportions to understanding the unique effects of individual subtypes of fats, carbohydrates and proteins. Substantial evidence has now accumulated for a major role of dietary fat subtypes in insulin action. Intake of saturated fats is strongly linked to development of obesity and insulin resistance, while that of polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) is not. This is consistent with observations that saturated fats are poorly oxidized for energy and thus readily stored, are poorly mobilized by lipolytic stimuli, impair membrane function, and increase the expression of genes associated with adipocyte profileration (making their own home). PUFAs have contrasting effects in each instance. It is therefore not surprising that increased PUFA intake in animal models is associated with improved insulin action and reduced adiposity. Less information is available for carbohydrate subtypes. Early work clearly demonstrated that diets high in simple sugars (in particular fructose) led to insulin resistance. However, again attention has rightly shifted to the very interesting issue of subtypes of complex carbohydrates. While no differences in insulin action have yet been shown, differences in substrate flux suggest there could be long-term beneficial effects on the fat balance of diets enhanced in slowly digested/resistant starches. A new area of major interest is in protein subtypes. Recent results have shown that rats fed high-fat diets where the protein component was from casein or soy were insulin-resistant, but when the protein source was from cod they were not. These are exciting times in our growing understanding of dietary factors and insulin action. While it has been clear for some time that ‘oils ain't oils’, the same is now proving true for carbohydrates and proteins.

Correspondence:

c1 *Corresponding author: L. H. Storlien, fax +61 2 42 21 47 18, email len_storlien@uow.edu.au