As low-carb dietitian Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE, who’s based in Orange County, California, points out, when you cut back on carbs, blood sugar and insulin levels generally go down, which can be a good thing for some people. “Carbs are broken down into glucose, which raises your blood sugar and prompts your pancreas to produce insulin to drive sugar into your cells,” says Spritzler. “When you’re overweight or obese, your blood sugar goes up and your pancreas sends out insulin, but your cells may not be responsive, leading your pancreas to overproduce insulin,” she says. High insulin increases hunger and prompts fat storage, she explains.
You can see the results, too. In January 2015, the Journal of Nutrition conducted two studies comparing lower-carb and low-fat diets, finding that of the two approaches, going lower carb helped people shave off more visceral fat, a type of belly fat that hugs organs and is linked to disease. (3) A meta-analysis published in June 2016 in Obesity Reviews also concluded that in obese people, a low-carb diet reduced fat over the course of a year (but not body weight), with the greatest benefits seen in a very-low-carb diet. (4)
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"Your body will often shift metabolism when you do something different to it -- but it equalizes -- you see a rapid shift and a return to normal -- and the longer-term studies show normal results in this area," says Sondike. Still, he tells WebMD it's a "smart idea" to take a calcium supplement beginning at the start of your low-carb diet to safeguard against a possible deficiency. Tofu can also be a good source of calcium.
Once glucose enters your bloodstream, it causes your blood sugar to rise immediately. This prompts your pancreas to produce insulin, the hormone that allows glucose to move out of your blood and into your cells. How much your blood sugar goes up – and how long it stays elevated – depends on a number of factors, including how many carbs you eat, how much insulin you produce, and how sensitive your cells are to insulin.
Here we’ll explain what we mean by low-carb, what the benefits are of low-carb eating when you have diabetes, and share a low-carb meal plan to help you get started if this is the diet for you. We’ll also explain how to get support to manage any potential risks, especially if you manage your diabetes with medications which put you at risk of hypos.
"One of the primary places where you are going to see metabolic changes on any kind of diet is in your gastrointestinal tract -- and that can include a change in bowel habits often experienced as constipation," says Sondike, who is also credited with conducting the first published, randomized clinical trial on low-carb diets. The reason, Sondike tells WebMD, is that most folks get whatever fiber they consume from high-carb foods such as bread and pasta. Cut those foods out, and your fiber intake can drop dramatically, while the risk of constipation rises.
You probably hear the most about low-carb eating for weight loss, but for some people, the approach could also help optimize their health, says Schmidt. “Research shows that women who are obese or have metabolic problems [may] do better hormonally on lower carbs,” says Schmidt, pointing out that other outcomes of the diet can include better sleep, mental clarity, and increased satiety. (1)
Take a break from breakfast: If you’re not hungry, feel free to skip breakfast and just have coffee (with some milk if you want it). Many people find that within a few days of eating low-carb, high-fat meals, cravings and hunger decrease significantly. This can make it easy to skip a meal, perhaps especially breakfast. Skipping a meal is cheap, fast, and might increase the diet’s effectiveness for weight loss and diabetes. See intermittent fasting
Most of us LOVE dairy products in all shapes and forms, but it’s possible that skipping or reducing them in your diet could speed up your weight loss and be beneficial for your health. This is because dairy products contain not only milk sugar (lactose), but also milk protein (casein), which stimulates insulin secretion more than many other types of protein, and can trigger overeating.
That said, there isn’t an agreement that a low-carb diet is superior to any other kind of diet or that it’s healthier long term. A review in the December 2015 issue of Diabetes Therapy that looked at the diet among those with diabetes noted that when it comes to weight loss, a low-carb diet performs no better than other higher-carb diets; and that it doesn’t produce better glycemic control, either. (5) Another report in Diabetes Care also found that over one year, those on a low-carb diet lost weight faster than those on a low-fat one, but after a year, weight loss and A1C levels (an average of blood glucose over about three months) were remarkably similar. (6)