Diabetes is a rapidly growing health issue in the United States, with reportedly over 37 million Americans living with it on a daily basis. According to the CDC, the majority of these cases are Type 2 diabetes, specifically. Although this disease mostly occurs in those over the age of 45, its cases among children and teens are also increasing.
There are uncontrollable factors that may increase your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, like age and genetics, but lifestyle factors including movement and diet play a significant role. New research from Tulane University has found that when it comes to your diet, limiting your daily intake of carbohydrates may help reduce your risk or manage existing diabetes.
These are certainly not the first findings on the potential benefits of a low-carb eating pattern on those with diabetes or prediabetes. For example, researchers at Stanford Medical Center say that low-carb diets like the keto or Mediterranean diet may help with management because of their ability to lower blood sugar levels.
However, these recent findings from researchers at Tulane are unique because they’ve discovered that a low-carb diet may be able to help unmedicated individuals with existing diabetes or prediabetes lower their blood sugar levels.
What the study found
Researchers divided 150 participants into two groups: a low-carb diet group and a group with a “usual” diet. Each participant was between the ages of 40 and 70, and had either diabetes or prediabetes. In addition, they could not be on any sort of medication for lowering their blood sugar.
After six months, the group who ate a low-carb diet had lower levels of hemoglobin A1c, which is a common marker for measuring blood sugar levels. This means that this eating habit may potentially be able to help those with both diabetes and prediabetes manage their blood glucose.
It was also discovered that the low-carb group lost more total weight, as well as had lower fasting blood sugar levels than the “usual diet” group. Fasting blood sugar levels are another measurement for blood sugar but are measured after an individual fasts overnight.
“Considering how so many Americans are developing diabetes, finding ways to reduce their risk is incredibly important,” says Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, and author of The First Time Mom’s Pregnancy Cookbook and Fueling Male Fertility. “The results of this data are promising.”
What did the low-carb diet look like?
The participants in the low-carb group were given guidelines on how many carbohydrates to consume daily, as well as behavioral counseling for the six-month period. In the first three months, participants were instructed to limit their carb consumption to less than 40 grams per day, with an increase to 60 grams in the last three months.
According to the study, the “usual diet” group received “standard dietary advice,” but it seems like not much else was given as far as dietary instruction for this group. At the end of the study, the low-carb group had consumed fewer total calories than the other group, as well as fewer total carbohydrates, added sugars, and sugar-sweetened drinks.
The low-carb diet group also consumed plenty of fatty food, with about 50% of their total intake being from fat. However, the majority of the fats consumed were monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, which are healthy fats found in things like olive oil, seeds, avocados, and nuts.
What are the possible issues with this study?
Although these findings are promising for those with diabetes or prediabetes, there are a few possible limitations with these findings. For one, Manaker points out that a sample size of 150 participants is small. Not only that, but the study measured total net carbohydrates, which may send a limiting message.
“Those that consumed the least amount of net carbs appeared to have the best results,” says Manaker. “But one thing that concerns me about these results is that the take-home message would be to keep net carbohydrate intake low, not taking into consideration where the carbohydrates are coming from.”
While all carbohydrates have an effect on blood sugar levels, some are much healthier than others.
“Consuming an orange, a cup of berries, or a serving of prunes has a much different effect on the body than drinking a serving of soda,” Manaker explains. “Yes, the fruit contains carbohydrates, but it also contains plant compounds that offer unique benefits for various health factors, including diabetes itself.”
The findings from this study are helpful in moving forward with more knowledge of diabetes management and diet. However, as you can see, there are a few crucial limitations. While there is not enough proof here to say a low-carb diet will prevent diabetes, it’s still helpful in understanding how this eating habit may help manage or lower blood sugar levels in those with prediabetes or diabetes.