In contrast to the quality of carbohydrates and lipids, little is known on the influence of the type of dietary protein on the development of the metabolic or insulin resistance syndrome. Cysteine intake has been recently documented to impact insulin sensitivity. The aim of this study was to determine whether rapeseed protein, an emergent cysteine-rich protein, could inhibit the onset of the metabolic syndrome. For 9 weeks, rats were fed a diet rich in saturated fats and sucrose, which also included 20 % protein either as milk protein (‘Induction’ diet I) or rapeseed protein (diet R). A third, control group received an isoenergetic diet containing milk protein but polyunsaturated fats and starch (‘Prudent’ diet P). Plasma glucose, insulin, TAG and cholesterol, and blood pressure were monitored during the study, glucose tolerance was tested at week 7 and body composition determined at week 9. Plasma glucose, insulin and TAG increased during the experiment and, at week 9, plasma insulin was significantly 34 % lower in the R group and 56 % lower in P group as compared with the I group. The insulin peak after the glucose load was significantly 28–30 % lower in R and P than in I and the insulin sensitivity index was significantly higher in R than in I. Unexpectedly, peripheral fat deposition was slightly higher in R than in I. In this model, substituting rapeseed protein for milk protein had preventive effects on the early onset of insulin resistance, similar to those achieved by manipulating the types of dietary fat and carbohydrates.