The foods we consume as part of our diet possess different types of healthy nutrients. Macronutrients such as carbohydrates (carbs), proteins, and fats are required in larger amounts. However, for people living with diabetes, a high-carb diet is not recommended as it could cause a surge in blood glucose levels.
For people with diabetes, one of the ways to regulate their blood glucose levels is to follow a healthy and balanced low-carb diet. Besides stabilizing the blood glucose level, such a diet offers benefits against some other effects of diabetes, such as heart disease and weight gain.
What is a low-carb diet?
A low-carb diet involves reduced consumption of carbohydrate-rich foods such as grains, bread, pasta, and sugary foods. Today, a number of low-carb diets exist. Most of them restrict the intake of carbohydrates to less than 130g per day, and are high on other macronutrients such as protein and fats (healthier ones).
Low-carb diets have been around for decades. Existing and emerging scientific evidence suggests that low-carb diets can have a positive effect on important health indicators such as triglycerides, cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels.
Benefits of a low-carb diet
A low-carb diet is associated with multiple health benefits such as:
- Supports weight loss
- Reduces levels of blood glucose
- Reduces appetite
- Effective against harmful abdominal (visceral) fat
- Stimulates reduction in blood triglycerides
- Increases HDL ‘good’ cholesterol levels
- Improves LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol levels
Low-carb diet: Foods to eat and avoid
Foods to avoid
As part of a healthy, low-carb diet, the intake of the following should be avoided or kept to the minimum:
- Sugar: Ice cream, candy, fruits juices, sweetened beverages
- Refined grains: White rice, refined wheat, and any grain stripped off their fiber
- Trans fats: Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils
- Processed foods: Cereals, bread, pasta, noodles, etc.
- Starchy vegetables: potatoes, peas, chickpeas, etc.
Foods to eat
Most of the calories in a low-carb diet should come from complex carbohydrates, fiber-rich foods, high-quality protein, and healthy fats, such as:
- Vegetables: Broccoli, carrots, spinach, cauliflower, and many others
- Fruits: Apples, pears, oranges, strawberries, blueberries
- Nuts and seeds: Walnuts, almonds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, etc.
- Low-fat dairy: Butter, cheese, and yogurt
- Oils: Olive oil, coconut oil, and fish oil
- Eggs & fish rich in omega 3 fatty acids
- Lean meat
- Whole grains like brown rice, red rice, whole wheat, millets, etc
Popular low-carb diets
When selecting a low-carb diet, it is important to look beyond fads and opt for a nutrition plan that is balanced, and one that embraces whole and natural foods, while cutting out added sugar, polished grains, refined flour, and unhealthy saturated fats. For several years now, the Mediterranean and DASH diets have been ranked as the top 2 in the reputed ‘U.S. News and World Report annual ranking of best diets’. A study published in the American Heart Association (AHA) journals found that a vegetarian diet was as effective as the Mediterranean diet in reducing body weight, and keeping the heart healthy by reducing the LDL cholesterol level. Each of these diet patterns have been recognized and praised for their nutritional completeness and ability to prevent or control diabetes.
This is the simplest low-carb diet that doesn’t have a unique definition except for the fact it tends to be lower in carbs and higher in protein. The diet usually focuses on eggs, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, meats, fish, and healthy fats. It restricts or minimizes the intake of high-carb foods like rice, wheat, potatoes, sweetened beverages, and processed junk foods. It promotes healthy carb alternatives like millets, parboiled rice, whole wheat bread, etc.
- DASH diet (Dietary approaches to stop hypertension)
This is a diet pattern recommended to prevent high blood pressure (hypertension) and is also beneficial for people with diabetes or those trying to reduce body weight. It emphasizes the consumption of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein, low-fat dairy products, and fiber. DASH also discourages foods that are high in saturated fat, such as fatty meats, full-fat dairy foods, and tropical oils, as well as sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets. Following DASH means limiting sodium at 2,300 mg a day, and eventually lowered to about 1,500 mg.
This dietary pattern emphasizes plenty of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds; moderate amounts of whole grains, olive oil as a primary fat source; and dairy products, eggs, fish, and poultry in low to moderate amounts. Fish and poultry are more common than red meat in this diet. It also centres on minimally processed, plant-based foods. Wine may be consumed in low to moderate amounts, usually with meals. Fruit is a common dessert instead of processed sweets.
Things to keep in mind before following a low-carb diet
People with diabetes should consult a dietitian or physician before opting for a low-carb diet. Without adequate planning, a low-carb diet may lead to a deficiency of several key nutrients. Since people on a low-carb diet tend to eat lots of protein, there could be a risk of kidney damage over the long term. Other risks associated with a low-carb diet include low fiber intake, clogged arteries, and poor bone health.
A low-carb diet may also trigger a significant and dramatic reduction in blood sugar. If medications for diabetes are not adjusted for a low-carb diet, there is a high risk of developing hypoglycemia, a condition characterized by dangerously low blood glucose levels. Therefore, it is important for individuals with diabetes to speak with their healthcare provider before starting a low-carb diet.
For people with diabetes, the adoption of a low-carb diet offers an excellent way to improve the management of blood glucose levels, decrease medication needs, and significantly diminish the risk of diabetic complications. However, when it comes to a low-carb diet, there is no one-size-fits-all rule. Without proper planning, such a diet may do more harm than good.
Therefore, it is essential to consult a healthcare provider before starting a low-carb diet. A physician or dietitian can help create a customized healthy, low-carb meal plan that takes into account individual-centric factors such as lifestyle, medications, dietary preferences, and health goals. Following such a plan will go a long way in improving diabetes management.
For any questions relating to diabetes and its management, do an online consultation with an endocrinologist.