It may be possible to add a compound to high-fat food that can cut the risk of an unhealthy diet leading to diabetes, say scientists.
A high-fat diet can damage health
US Department of Agriculture chemists found the compound, a form of soluble cellulose, slowed down the rate of fat absorption.
Animal tests showed this cut the risk of insulin resistance - a condition which often leads to type 2 diabetes.
Details were presented to a meeting of the American Chemical Society.
The compound, HPMC, is already used as an additive in many foods and drugs - mostly to provide texture.
But the US team believe theirs is the first study to show that it might also have potential as a so-called functional food ingredient, helping to boost health.
While they are hopeful that the compound could prove useful at reducing the risk of diabetes, they say it is unlikely to prevent obesity too.
Researcher Dr Wallace Yokoyama said: "Obviously, the less fat you eat, the better off you are.
"But if you're going to eat high-fat foods, then adding HPMC to it might help limit the damage."
The researchers fed hamsters a diet containing fat levels comparable to a typical American fast food diet for four weeks.
They found that the animals developed insulin resistance.
However, another group of hamsters fed a similar high-fat diet but with HPMC substituted for the insoluble fibre normally found in high fat food showed no signs of developing insulin resistance.
The researchers believe HPMC slows down the absorption of fats, preventing high fat levels from overwhelming the digestive system.
It also seems to control the way in which fat is transported to the body's adipose tissue, where it is normally stored.
Fats that are taken into the body too quickly - for instance during a fast food binge - tend to be rapidly shunted to non-adipose tissues such as the liver, heart and pancreas, where they can do extensive damage to cells.
Pancreatic damage can lead to diabetes.
The researchers estimate that only around five grams of HPMC would be needed to have a positive impact on health.
However, they say that further work is needed to pin down the exact effect.
Amanda Vezey, of the charity Diabetes UK, said: "Although this research is interesting it has only been tested so far on animals and much more work would need to be done before we could draw any conclusions about its effect on humans.
"Even if this were to be successful, it would not reduce all the other risks created by eating a high-fat diet and being overweight."
Ms Vezey said there was already evidence which proves that in some cases diabetes can be prevented or delayed by maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet and doing regular physical activity.
"Although they do take some effort, making these lifestyle changes are definitely the best way of reducing your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes."