Following a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet had a short-term beneficial effect on blood glucose control in people with type 1 diabetes, according to a recent study published in the journal Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism.
Following a low-carbohydrate diet for diabetes is still considered somewhat unconventional, even though the practice has been shown to improve blood glucose control in type 1 diabetes, and may even help lead to remission of type 2 diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association’s latest guidelines, “Reducing overall carbohydrate intake for individuals with diabetes has demonstrated evidence for improving glycemia and may be applied in a variety of eating patterns that meet individual needs and preferences.” But when it comes to protein, the same guidelines state that “There is no evidence that adjusting the daily level of protein intake…will improve health.”
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For the latest study, researchers compared three different dietary patterns in a small group of people with type 1 diabetes — each containing the same number of total calories. During three separate weeks, and in a random order, 15 participants followed each diet, with a week in between each study-diet period in which they followed their normal diet. The first diet was a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet in which 20% of calories came from carbohydrate. The second diet was a Mediterranean low-glycemic-index diet in which 40% of calories came from carbohydrate, with a focus on slowly digested forms of carbohydrate. The third diet was a reference diet in which 50% of calories came from carbohydrate. During each study-diet period, participants wore a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) system so that researchers could calculate how much time they spent within a target glucose range of 70 to 140 mg/dl.
High-protein, low-carb diet linked to glucose benefits
The researchers found that during the high-protein, low-carbohydrate phase of the study, 11 out of 15 participants spent more time within the target glucose range than during either the Mediterranean low-glycemic or reference phase. Compared with the reference diet, the high-protein diet was linked to a significantly greater amount of time spent in the target glucose range — 74.33% of the time, compared with 67.53% of the time. There was also less overall glycemic variability when following the high-protein diet, and less time spent below the target glucose range. But when the high-protein diet was compared directly with the Mediterranean low-glycemic diet, there weren’t any differences large enough to be statistically significant.
The researchers concluded that following a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet “may have a positive impact on glycemic control” in people with type 1 diabetes, although it’s possible that other dietary patterns — such as a higher-fat, low-carbohydrate diet, or a low-glycemic diet containing more carbohydrate — could offer similar benefits. More research is needed to establish an optimum level of carbohydrate intake for glucose control in type 1 diabetes, as well as the optimum amount of fat and protein in the diet.
Want to learn more about low-carbohydrate diets and diabetes? Read “Low-Carb Myths and Facts.”