The People's Perspective on Medicine

People with Diabetes Do Better on Low-Carb Diets

A study from Denmark shows better blood sugar control among people with diabetes following low-carb diets. They also had less fatty livers.

For years, doctors and dietitians have been arguing about the best diet for people with diabetes. The American Diabetes Association has long recommended cutting fat, especially saturated fat, which leaves people eating more carbohydrates to meet their calorie needs. However, some studies suggest that low-carb diets can help prevent or control diabetes (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Oct. 2015).

Low-Carb Diets for People with Diabetes:

Danish researchers report that people with type 2 diabetes might do well to skip the Danish at breakfast. That’s because a diet lower in carbohydrates with more fat and protein can help people keep their blood sugar under control (Diabetologia, July 23, 2019). The investigators conducted a three-month long study. During that time, 28 people with type 2 diabetes followed low-carb diets higher in fat diet or higher-carb diets that adhered to dietary recommendations for diabetes.

Calories were controlled to prevent weight loss. (Weight loss is a benefit for many people with type 2 diabetes. Often dropping several pounds allows for better blood glucose control.)

People who followed the low-carb diet did better on regulating blood sugar. In addition, they had less fat in their livers at the end of the study. This is important, since non-alcoholic fatty liver disease complicates blood sugar control (Annals of Medicine, 2005). 

Can Diet Reverse Type 2 Diabetes?

This research adds to the debate on reversing type 2 diabetes with lifestyle or diet. People can reverse this metabolic disorder with bariatric surgery, low-energy diets leading to weight loss, or low-carb diets (Nutrients, April 1, 2019). Other scientists have pointed out that the quality of carbs in the diet may be more important than the quantity. They cite studies showing that unrefined, high-fiber carbs can also contribute to reversal (Nutrients, July 2019).

The People’s Pharmacy Perspective:

People with type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes should try low-carb diets to see if they help. We suspect that such a dietary program will help many but not all patients. On the other hand, avoiding highly processed foods, especially refined flour and added sugar, should benefit everyone.

Learn More:

We offer more information on blood sugar control in our Guide to Managing Diabetes. In addition, you may wish to listen to our interviews about exercise and botanical medicines to reverse diabetes. You’ll find them in Show 1036: How to Prevent Diabetes by Changing Your Life.

Our interview with Dr. Joel Fuhrman focuses on the dangers of processed food and what we could eat instead. It is Show 1122: Can You Keep Fast Food from Killing You?

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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Citations
  • Tay J et al, "Comparison of low- and high-carbohydrate diets for type 2 diabetes management: A randomized trial." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Oct. 2015. DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.115.112581
  • Skytte MJ et al, "A carbohydrate-reduced high-protein diet improves HbA1c and liver fat content in weight stable participants with type 2 diabetes: A randomised controlled trial." Diabetologia, July 23, 2019. DOI: 10.1007/s00125-019-4956-4
  • Yki-Jarvinen H, "Fat in the liver and insulin resistance." Annals of Medicine, 2005. DOI: 10.1080/07853890510037383
  • Hallberg SJ et al, "Reversing type 2 diabetes: A narrative review of the evidence." Nutrients, April 1, 2019. DOI: 10.3390/nu11040766
  • Joshi S et al, "Utility of unrefined carbohydrates in type 2 diabetes. Comment on 'Reversing type 2 diabetes: A narrative review of the evidence, Nutrients, 2019, 11, 766.'" Nutrients, July 2019. doi: 10.3390/nu11071620
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I am 68 and female. I was told I had type 2 diabetes 2 1/2 years ago. It took 6 months, but after adopting a ketogenic eating plan I lost 45 pounds and reversed the diabetes. I have continued to lose more weight slowly and want to reach my goal of 150 for a total of 100 pounds weight loss. I have learned that eating this way is the best for me to maintain good physical health and mental health.

I have fought depression and chronic fatigue and joint pain all of my adult life and no longer include these in my complaints. I have a great doctor who has fully supported my efforts and monitors my supplement use. I am exercising regularly and am looking forward to a healthy future.

So, you’re saying that scientific studies have shown that people with a disease that (at it’s core) involves problems with the body’s handling of carbohydrates do better when they eat fewer carbohydrates? Amazing!

I thought Halberg’s study, which you cite, was pretty definitive. I find it hard to believe there is still any debate. So unfortunate that the information provided to the general public is so confusing after all this time.

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