Study: Switching to a low-carb, high-protein diet can do wonders for diabetes management
09/11/2020 / By Skye Anderson / Comments
Study: Switching to a low-carb, high-protein diet can do wonders for diabetes management

People with diabetes are advised to reduce their carbohydrate intake as a means of controlling their blood sugar and triglyceride levels. A recent study by Danish researchers confirmed the advantages of this type of diet for diabetics by comparing its effects with that of a conventional diabetes diet.

“Our study confirms the assumption that a diet with a reduced-carbohydrate content can improve patients’ ability to regulate their blood sugar levels – without the patients concurrently losing weight,” said Thure Krarup, the study’s senior author.

Conventional diabetes diet and nutrition therapy

According to previous guidelines set by the American Diabetes Association, diabetics should consume roughly 50 percent carbs, 20 percent protein and 30 percent fat to keep their blood sugar levels normal and promote weight loss. Diabetics are encouraged to get these specific amounts of nutrients from mostly plant-based foods (e.g., fruits and vegetables), combined with a small amount of fish and other seafood, poultry, cheese and eggs, beef, pork, veal or lamb.

Consensus recommendations also suggest that Type 2 diabetics should aim for at least a five percent weight loss to get clinical benefits from their diet. But the ultimate goal for optimal outcomes is 15 percent or more when needed (i.e., for those who are overweight or obese). Prediabetics, on the other hand, are encouraged to lose seven to 10 percent of their weight to prevent their condition from progressing to Type 2 diabetes.

Nutrition therapy is broadly defined by the National Academy of Medicine as the “treatment of a disease or condition through the modification of nutrient or whole-food intake.” Nutrition therapy for diabetics is based on scientific evidence suggesting that an ideal percentage of calories from carbohydrates, protein and fat for diabetics and people at risk of diabetes does not exist; hence, it advocates macronutrient distribution based on individualized assessments of current eating patterns, preferences and metabolic goals.

As part of nutrition therapy, diabetics and at-risk individuals are encouraged to increase their consumption of dietary fiber. This is ideally achieved by eating more vegetables, pulses, fruits and whole grains or by taking dietary supplements. Research on the benefits of high-fiber intake suggests that it not only helps lower blood glucose levels, but it also reduces risk factors for cardiovascular disease, especially high blood pressure and abdominal obesity.

Besides improving blood sugar control, nutrition therapy is also used for the prevention or management of diabetes complications. Diabetics are advised to replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats to help lower their bad cholesterol levels and reduce their risk of heart disease. They are also encouraged to replace high-carb foods with low-carb ones that are rich in healthy fats. These foods are meant to help improve their blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

As part of diet recommendations, diabetics and prediabetics are also advised to consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day and to eat a serving of fatty fish at least twice a week.

A low-carb, high-protein diet proves beneficial for diabetics

Dietary recommendations for people with Type 2 diabetes are still subject to change, although research at present is leaning toward a diet with reduced carbohydrate content. To understand why this type of diet is more favorable than the isoenergetic (constant energy) conventional diabetes diet, a team of Danish researchers compared their effects on patients with diabetes.

For their experiment, the researchers recruited 28 participants, 14 of whom adhered to a carbohydrate-reduced, high-protein diet for six weeks, followed by another six weeks on a conventional diabetes diet. The remaining 14 participants also tried the two diets in the reverse order. Before the beginning of the experiment and at the end of each diet period, the researchers subjected each participant to a meal test and measured their blood sugar and blood lipid levels, blood pressure and ectopic fat content (liver and pancreas).

The researchers found that compared with the conventional diabetes diet, the carbohydrate-reduced, high-protein diet significantly decreased the participants’ glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c) levels, which is indicative of how well they were managing their condition. Lower HbA1c levels indicate better blood sugar control. The carbohydrate-reduced, high-protein diet also decreased the participants’ fasting blood sugar, postprandial blood sugar, liver fat and pancreatic fat to a greater extent than the conventional diabetes diet. However, the effect of both diets on the participants’ blood pressure, muscle fat, abdominal fat and subcutaneous fat did not differ significantly.

Based on these results, the researchers concluded that diabetics can benefit more from a diet that requires them to substitute carbohydrates with protein and fat. They recommend that diabetics follow a lower-carbohydrate diet that contains high amounts of protein and moderate amounts of fat, as well as carbohydrates with low glycemic indices (GI).

An important thing to note about the study was that the researchers asked the participants to avoid weight loss during the intervention. By doing so, the researchers ensured that the improvements in the participants’ blood sugar levels were the direct result of nutritional changes and not improved insulin sensitivity.

“Our findings are important because we’ve removed weight loss from the equation. Previous studies have provided contradictory conclusions, and weight loss has complicated interpretations in a number of these studies,” explained Krarup.

According to Krarup, a more controlled study could help them understand the importance of reducing carbohydrate intake in the treatment of Type 2 diabetes.

Weighing the pros and cons of a low-carb diet

Low-carb diets are not a new concept. In fact, these types of diet, especially the ketogenic diet, have been the subject of numerous studies as well as controversies. For one, some claim that low-carb diets are bad for the heart because they promote the consumption of large amounts of fat to compensate for the lack of carbs. Eating too much fatty foods raises bad cholesterol levels, which then increases the risk of heart disease.

But according to experts, it all boils down to the type of fats you decide to eat while on a low-carb diet. If you opt for unhealthy, saturated fats by eating more meat, then your heart is likely to suffer the consequences. But if you choose to eat healthy fats like those found in fatty fish, avocados, nuts and chia seeds, then you’ll reap nothing but amazing health benefits. Healthy unsaturated fats like omega-3 fatty acids can not only boost your heart health, they can also reduce inflammation, help fight obesity and even improve brain function.

Low-carb diets, when done right, can provide plenty of health benefits, according to studies. They can reduce your appetite, help you lose some weight and abdominal fat (the dangerous type of fat), lower your blood triglyceride levels and give you better control of your blood sugar. Some studies have also found that low-carb diets can help lower your blood pressure.

A low-carb diet can do wonders for your metabolic health, especially if you’re diabetic. But at the end of the day, it all depends on your food choices. There is enough evidence to support the benefits of a low-carb diet with high amounts of protein and moderate amounts of fat for diabetics. Research shows that this diet can help improve blood sugar control and decrease the amount of fat in your liver and pancreas. To enjoy the benefits of this low-carb diet, make sure you choose the right foods. Opt for nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocados and fatty fish as sources of healthy fats and get carbohydrates from low-glycemic index foods like beans, lentils, chickpeas. sweet potatoes and bran.

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