Dietary fatty acids may be associated with diabetes but are difficult to measure accurately.We aimed to investigate the associations of fatty acids in plasma and diet with diabetes incidence.This was a prospective case-cohort study of 3737 adults aged 36-72 y. Fatty acid intake (/kJ) and plasma phospholipid fatty acids (%) were measured at baseline, and diabetes incidence was assessed by self-report 4 y later. Logistic regression excluding (model 1) and including (model 2) body mass index and waist-hip ratio was used to calculate odds ratios (ORs) for plasma phospholipid and dietary fatty acids.In plasma phospholipid, positive associations with diabetes were seen for stearic acid [OR model 1, highest versus lowest quintile: 4.14 (95% CI: 2.65, 6.49), P for trend < 0.0001] and total saturated fatty acids [OR model 1: 3.76 (2.43, 5.81), P for trend < 0.0001], whereas an inverse association was seen for linoleic acid [OR model 1: 0.22 (0.14, 0.36), P for trend < 0.0001]. Dietary linoleic [OR model 1: 1.77 (1.19, 2.64), P for trend = 0.002], palmitic [OR model 1: 1.65 (1.12, 2.43), P for trend = 0.012], and stearic [OR model 1: 1.46 (1.00, 2.14), P for trend = 0.030] acids were positively associated with diabetes incidence before adjustment for body size. Within each quintile of linoleic acid intake, cases had lower baseline plasma phospholipid linoleic acid proportions than did controls.Dietary saturated fat intake is inversely associated with diabetes risk. More research is required to determine whether linoleic acid is an appropriate dietary substitute.