The present study compared the effects of feeding uncooked pea fractions (embryo v. seed coat) on glucose homeostasis in glucose-intolerant rats and examined potential mechanisms influencing glucose homeostasis. Rats were made glucose intolerant by high-fat feeding, after which diets containing both high-fat and pea fractions were fed for 4 weeks. Rats fed diets containing uncooked pea seed coats low (non-coloured seed coat; NSC) or high (coloured seed coat; CSC) in proanthocyanidins but not embryos had improved oral glucose tolerance (P < 0·05). NSC also lowered fasting and glucose-stimulated insulin secretion (P < 0·05), decreased β-cell mass by 50 % (P < 0·05) and lowered levels of malondialdehyde, a marker of oxidative stress. Furthermore, NSC decreased the mucosal thickness of the colon by 25 % (P < 0·05), which might affect fibre fermentation and other gut functions. Small but statistically significant (P < 0·05) effects consistent with enhanced glucose transport or metabolism were observed in the skeletal muscle of rats fed NSC or CSC, for example, increased levels of AMP-dependent kinase or akt. We conclude that pea seed coats are the fraction exerting beneficial effects on glucose tolerance. Most of the changes were small in amplitude, suggesting that additive effects on multiple tissues may be important. NSC content appeared to have the most beneficial effects in improving glucose homeostasis but our ability to detect the effect of flavonoids may have been limited by their low concentration in the diet.