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Low carbohydrate diet improves blood sugar control in type 2 diabetics

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  • Following a low-carb diet may help control blood glucose in type 2 diabetics, according to a new study.
  • Patients who followed the low-carb diet also lost 22 pounds.
  • Experts explain whether a low-carb diet is right for you.

Treatment of type 2 diabetes usually involves a combination of lifestyle changes and medication. But a new study found that more than half of patients were able to better control their blood glucose (or blood sugar) by following a low-carb diet.

The study, which was published in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention and Health, analyzed data from 186 patients with type 2 diabetes over eight years. These patients chose to follow a low-carbohydrate diet (no more than 130 g of carbohydrates per day) and were instructed by their physicians during routine consultations on how to follow and maintain a low-carbohydrate diet. Patients reported their meals and also had the option to participate in group sessions to help them choose and prepare low-carbohydrate foods.

Overall, researchers found that patients who followed a low-carb diet lost about 22 pounds. in average. About 97% of patients who followed a low-carbohydrate diet had a large drop in A1C levels (a blood test that indicates the average blood glucose over three months) during the follow-up periods, and 51% of patients ( 94 people) had sustained remission for three months, meaning their blood sugar levels were below the range for a diagnosis of diabetes (an A1C below 6.5).

The researchers also found that 77% of patients who followed a low-carbohydrate diet within a year of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes achieved remission. This, they wrote in the study’s conclusion, “represents an important window of opportunity for achieving medication-free diabetes remission.”

It’s important to note that this study has its limitations, however. Namely, that there was no general treatment control group, and the patients’ family history and other conditions that may affect insulin resistance were not observed.

This isn’t the first time a low-carb diet has been linked to better diabetes control. A meta-analysis published in BMJ in 2021 also found that patients who followed a low-carb diet for six months had higher rates of diabetes remission than those who did not change their diet.

But why might a low-carb diet help with diabetes management, and how can you tell if it’s right for you? Here’s the deal.

Why can a low carb diet help control diabetes?

To understand how carbohydrates can play a role in managing diabetes, it’s important to address how carbohydrates work in the body. When you eat or drink carbohydrates, your body turns them into glucose (a form of sugar), according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). This raises your blood glucose level, otherwise known as blood sugar, and your body uses this for fuel. Your pancreas needs to release something called insulin to help your cells absorb that glucose, explains the ADA.

With prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, but your pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin to help your cells absorb the glucose, according to the ADA. As a result, blood sugar rises and this can lead to symptoms such as feeling tired, more infections than usual, peeing a lot and feeling very thirsty.

The goal of diabetes management is glycemic control, which is keeping blood sugar levels within a certain range, explains Jessica Cording, RD, nutritionist and author of The Little Book of Game Changers.

As for low-carb, Cording says, “There’s something to the idea that following a low-carb diet can keep your blood sugar stable.” She adds, “By default, you’re eating more calories from protein and fat, which slows down the digestive process and keeps your blood sugar more stable.”

Keri Gans, RD, New York-based nutritionist and author of The Small Change Diet agree. “If an individual is consuming fewer carbs at mealtime, it may be easier to maintain glycemic control,” she says, since the body’s slower insulin production doesn’t have to deal with more carbs.

diabetes treatments

There are a variety of possible treatments for type 2 diabetes, and it largely involves a mix of lifestyle changes and medications, says Cording. Treatment for type 2 diabetes usually includes the following, according to the Mayo Clinic:

  • Following a healthy diet that focuses on fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains.
  • Do regular physical activity.
  • Taking insulin, oral diabetes medications, or both.
  • Monitoring your blood sugar and adjusting your insulin dose as needed.

“Diet is critical because it determines how glucose is absorbed,” says Christoph Buettner, MD, Ph.D., chief of the division of endocrinology at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. But, he says, “If dietary control is not enough, then medication is necessary.” And there’s no shame in that.

The Doctor. Buettner says the goal is to keep blood glucose within a certain range, “and if that requires medication, that’s what we need.” Still, he says, “watching your diet, eating lots of vegetables, and avoiding white starches and sugar can have big benefits that are often overlooked.”

Should you go on a low carb diet if you have diabetes?

It depends. The ADA makes it clear that people with diabetes should be aware of their carbohydrate intake, but that a good balance is important. The organization recommends that people choose nutrient-dense carbs, meaning they’re high in fiber, vitamins and minerals and low in added sugars, sodium and unhealthy fats. The ADA specifically recommends that people with type 2 diabetes eat mostly whole, unprocessed, non-starchy vegetables, such as lettuce, cucumber, broccoli, and tomatoes, while eating some whole, minimally processed carbohydrates, such as apples, blueberries, and sweet potatoes. . Highly processed and refined carbohydrates, such as sodas, juices and pastries, should be limited, according to the ADA.

But, Cording points out, “The appropriate amount of carbs differs from person to person.” Meaning, the right amount of carbs to help you control your blood sugar may be very different than someone else’s. “Every person is different, and everyone’s diabetes experience is different,” says Cording.

If you have diabetes, Cording recommends not just switching to a low-carb diet to see what happens, especially if you’re taking medication to help manage your Type 2 diabetes. your medication, you could end up with hypoglycemia or very low blood sugar, she points out.

Ultimately, if you have prediabetes or are type 2 diabetic and are interested in trying a low-carb diet, Cording suggests speaking with your doctor first. They should be able to help guide you on the next steps.

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Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, sexual health and relationships, and lifestyle trends, with work published in Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Self, Glamor, and more. She has a master’s degree from American University, lives on the beach, and hopes to one day have a teacup pig and a taco truck.