TUESDAY, May 24 (HealthDay News) -- Losing weight may not be required to lower a person's risk for diabetes, a new study contends.

Rather, the study found, small dietary changes can make a big difference in risk, even without weight loss and particularly among blacks.

For the study, published online May 18 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the researchers put 69 overweight people at risk for diabetes on diets for eight weeks with only small reductions to their fat or carbohydrate intake. Those in the lower-fat group consumed a diet comprised of 27 percent fat and 55 percent carbohydrate. The low-carb group's diet was 39 percent fat and 43 percent carbohydrate.

"At eight weeks, the group on the lower-fat diet had significantly higher insulin secretion and better glucose tolerance and tended to have higher insulin sensitivity," the study's lead author, Barbara Gower, a nutrition sciences professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said in a university news release. The findings were described as stronger among black participants.

"These improvements indicate a decreased risk for diabetes," Gower said.

Surprisingly, she added, the study participants were at lower risk for the disease regardless of whether they lost any weight.

"People find it hard to lose weight," Gower said. "What is important about our study is that the results suggest that attention to diet quality, not quantity, can make a difference in risk for type 2 diabetes."

Limiting daily fat intake to about 27 percent of a person's diet can lower diabetes risk over the long term, the study concluded.

The researchers pointed out that the needed dietary changes are minimal and therefore manageable.

"The diets used in this study were actually fairly moderate," Laura Lee Goree, a dietitian at the university and a study co-author, said in the news release. "Individuals at risk for diabetes easily could adopt the lower-fat diet we employed."

More information

The American Diabetes Association offers information on type 2 diabetes.