Abstract Background Soluble sugar levels must be closely regulated in germinating seeds to ensure an adequate supply of energy and building materials for the developing seedling. Studies on germinating cereal seeds indicate that production of sugars from starch is inhibited by increasing sugar levels. Although numerous studies have focused on the regulation of starch metabolism, very few studies have addressed the control of storage lipid metabolism by germinating oilseeds. Results Mobilization of storage lipid by germinating seeds of the model oilseed plant Arabidopsis thaliana (L.) Heynh. occurs at a greatly reduced rate in the presence of exogenous glucose or mannose, but not in the presence of equi-molar 3-O-methylglucose or sorbitol. The sugar-insensitive5-1/abscisic acid-insensitive4-101 (sis5-1/abi4-101) mutant is resistant to glucose inhibition of seed storage lipid mobilization. Wild-type seedlings become insensitive to glucose inhibition of storage lipid breakdown within 3 days of the start of imbibition. Conclusions Growth in the presence of exogenous glucose significantly retards mobilization of seed storage lipid in germinating seeds from wild-type Arabidopsis. This effect is not solely due to the osmotic potential of the media, as substantially higher concentrations of sorbitol than of glucose are required to exert significant effects on lipid breakdown. The inhibitory effect of glucose on lipid breakdown is limited to a narrow developmental window, suggesting that completion of some critical metabolic transition results in loss of sensitivity to the inhibitory effect of glucose on lipid breakdown.