Fact Check: Should People with Type 2 Diabetes Follow a Low-Carb Diet?

Low-carb diet can help people lose weight and manage their blood sugar levels. (Image via Unsplash/Brooke Lark)
Low-carb diet can help people lose weight and manage their blood sugar levels. (Image via Unsplash/Brooke Lark)

The low-carb diet craze has successfully migrated into the realm of 'healthy' eating in recent years. Menu items with low-carb selections, fitness and diet food commercials, and well-known diet experts all support the notion that carbs should be consumed in moderation.

People with type 2 diabetes are increasingly turning to low-carbohydrate diets, such as low carbohydrate, high fat (LCHF) and ketogenic (keto) diets, to control their blood sugar levels and weight. However, are they actually the best option for managing diabetes?

In fact, a 2021 analysis of 23 respondents found that a very low-carb diet may aid in low carbohydrates after six months. However, at 12 months, results were not consistent. More research is required to determine how clinicians can assist dieters after six months.


What is a low-carb diet?

Generally speaking, a low-carb diet refers to limiting your daily carb intake to less than 130 grams.

In general, a low-carb diet limits or eliminates a variety of foods, such as whole grains, starchy vegetables, legumes, most fruits and some dairy products. Replace them with non-starchy vegetables, meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts and dairy products like cheese, butter, cream and Greek yogurt.

It's frequently advised to pick higher fat meat cuts and dishes made with whole milk.


How low-carb diet and type 2 diabetes are linked?

During digestion, carbohydrates that we have are converted to glucose, which subsequently enters the circulation. Therefore, it would make sense to cut back on carbohydrates to assist in lowering blood sugar levels, which in some ways is true.

However, if you have type 2 diabetes, the underlying insulin resistance is the reason why you don't handle carbs in the same manner as someone without it.

That means rather than focusing just on addressing the symptoms of high blood sugar, any dietary or lifestyle changes you make should be intended to improve how insulin functions in your body.

Some weight-loss programmes may enhance insulin sensitivity and reduce blood sugar levels. Low-carb diets are no exception, and research indicates that these, including very low-carb diets, can assist patients with type 2 diabetes to improve their blood glucose and fat levels as well as reduce their need for medication.


Balanced diet vs low-carb diet

For those with diabetes, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics advocates eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods, limiting salt and fat intake, and favouring complex, nutritious carbohydrates over refined ones.

The Academy's suggestions are consistent with the USDA's recommendations for a healthy diet.

If your doctor suggests a balanced diet rather than a low-carb one, choose complex carbs like whole grains, vegetables and fruits to be consistent with your daily carbohydrate intake.


Pros and Cons of Low-carb diet

Numerous studies indicate that a healthy diet shouldn't include many carbs on a daily basis. These consist of refined starches (such as those found in white bread, biscuits, cakes, pastries and highly processed breakfast cereals) and added sugars (such as confectionary and soft drinks). Most of the immediate advantages of consuming low carbs likely result from cutting out these foods from your diet.

Most of the items we know to be excellent for our health, such as whole grains, legumes, fruit, and some vegetables, are nevertheless restricted by low-carb diets.

More of these foods are related to a lower risk of numerous chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and several types of cancer, according to research. Although the long-term implications of a low-carb diet are unknown, this kind of eating regimen differs greatly from the diets of long-lived healthy populations, who all eat a diet that is primarily plant-based.

Additionally, low-carb diets may produce dehydration due to ketosis, constipation, foul breath, headaches and other unfavourable side effects (breaking down fat for energy). Activity, especially endurance exercise, can be challenging on low-carb diets due to poor energy and exhaustion levels.


Final Verdict

Although low-carb diet can help people lose weight and manage their blood sugar levels in the short term, it's not the only option and may have long-term health implications.

Few would dispute that there are advantages to consuming fewer refined carbohydrates and added sugars. However, there's also strong evidence supporting the health advantages of many high-quality carbohydrates, such as legumes, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

In addition, research suggests that a plant-based diet is one of the best dietary patterns for maintaining good health over the long term and preventing chronic diseases.

Before making any dietary changes, if you have diabetes, always check with your doctor. With the exception of low blood sugar, a low-carb diet generally has few negative effects, especially if you take drugs that lower your blood sugar.

Although there is more clarity required regarding low-carbohydrate diets for diabetics, as more studies are conducted, it's probable we'll learn more about the appropriate carbohydrate intake for those with diabetes.

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Edited by Bhargav