Eating a low-carb diet is a safe and effective way to lower blood sugar levels in those with diabetes, according to a new review by researchers at London Metropolitan University. Approximately 29.1 million people in the United States and more than 4 million people in the United Kingdom are living with diabetes.
Carbohydrates are a type of nutrient that includes sugars (as found in table sugar, fruit, and milk, for example) as well as starches (as found in foods such as bread, pasta, potatoes, rice, and cereal). Previous research has indicated possible benefits of low-carb diets for both diabetes and weight control. However, current dietary recommendations for people with diabetes are not significantly different from those for the general population. Because eating even moderate amounts of carbohydrate can result in blood sugar fluctuations, the researchers set out to investigate the effectiveness of a low-carb diet for people with diabetes, using an electronic database to review studies of the dietary approach in adults with diabetes.
The researchers found that those following a reduced-carbohydrate diet containing up to 130 grams of carbohydrate per day experienced a decrease in HbA1c levels (a measure of glucose control over the previous 2–3 months), with the greatest reduction in HbA1c of 2.2% occurring in those eating fewer than 30 grams of carbohydrate per day. Those following a low-carb diet also lost more weight, with a median (midpoint) weight loss of 4.7 kilograms (roughly 10.4 pounds) over a two-year period for those eating a low-carb diet compared to a median weight loss of 2.9 kilograms (approximately 6.4 pounds) for those eating a low-fat diet. Low-carb dieters were also found to experience less stress related to diabetes management and a decrease in negative moods between meals.
“Our findings suggest that a reduced-carbohydrate diet can be an effective technique for managing diabetes and new guidelines that promote lower carbohydrate intakes for both the general population, and those with diabetes, should seriously be considered,” says lead author Michelle McKenzie.
The researchers note that thought must be given to what foods should be used to replace carbohydrates in a low-carb diet, since diets high in fat, and especially saturated fat, have been shown to have risks for people with Type 2 diabetes. Further studies are needed to confirm the findings, they add, and a low-carb diet may not necessarily work for everyone, with changes to diet to be undertaken only “after consulting with a qualified dietitian and taking into account individual medical needs.”
For more information, see the London Metropolitan University press release “Low Carbohydrate Diets Should Be Considered for Diabetes Management” or the study’s abstract in the journal Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. And to learn more about low-carb diets for diabetes, read “Low-Carb Diabetes: What You Need to Know,” by nurse David Spero.
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Diane Fennell: Diane Fennell has been an editor at Diabetes Self-Management magazine since 2003. She is currently the Editorial Director. (Diane Fennell is not a medical professional.)
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