Think fatty foods are bad for diabetics? A new study suggests that the opposite may be true: that extra fat in the buttocks and thighs may actually help prevent type 2 diabetes.

Researchers found that injecting subcutaneous fat (fat just below the skin) into the abdomens of mice helped improve sensitivity to insulin.

However, the findings face years of contrary evidence, including a 2005 study by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which discovered a molecular link between a high-fat diet and the onset of diabetes. The question is: What should one believe?

"The only useful conclusion [from the new study]," says Lauren Antonucci, a nutritionist and certified diabetes instructor, "is that we're going back for more research. I wouldn't use it as an excuse to say that being overweight or obese is protective."

Whether the study has sparked a debate, the issue remains an important one. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), 57 million Americans have pre-diabetes, which occurs when one's glucose levels are higher than normal, putting you at risk for type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is a disease in which your body does not produce enough of the hormone insulin, or where your cells ignore the insulin. It is closely linked to problems such as heart disease and high cholesterol. In a 2002 study, the ADA found that lifestyle changes, including modest weight loss and increased physical activity, could delay its onset, or help prevent the disease altogether.

When a client is a type 2 diabetic, Antonucci, whose company Nutrition Energy is based in New York City, enjoys working with them. "We have control over what we put in our mouths and how much we move our butts," she says.

She helps them learn to eat more whole grains, consume more omega-3 and omega-6 fats, and cut down on saturated and trans fats. Enacting these changes focuses on the balance, timing, and portioning of carbohydrates-which helps control blood sugar levels, the biggest concern of type 2 diabetics.

While Antonucci allows that some fat is not the end of the world ("don't let a little extra weight in the butt and hips ruin you"), she suggests fighting type 2 diabetes in ways that keep you trim and healthy-smart dieting and consistent exercise.

"The implications of the new study are long road and clinical," she says. "The end-all will never be, 'Get obese and stay there.'"