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)
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.
Importantly, it is generally accepted that there is one component of carbs that isn’t digested and absorbed: fiber. This is because, unlike starch and sugar, your body lacks the enzymes needed to break down fiber. However, bacteria that live in your gut can digest it. After fiber passes into your colon, these gut bacteria ferment it into short-chain fatty acids, which don’t raise blood sugar and may provide health benefits.
For decades we’ve been told that fat is detrimental to our health. Meanwhile low-fat “diet” products, often full of sugar, have flooded supermarket shelves. This has likely been a major mistake, that coincided with the start of the obesity epidemic. While this doesn’t prove causation, it’s clear the low-fat message didn’t prevent the obesity increase, and it is possible it contributed.
Healthy fats & oils are back in too: Eating fat does not automatically clog the blood vessels in the way that poring oil down the drain will eventually block the drain. You make your own cholesterol and lipids and are more likely to increase your levels of the more damaging Very Low Density Lipoprotein (VLD), which is made in the liver when you eat a high carbohydrate diet.
If you want to cut costs even more you can replace the avocado in the tuna salad (if you are not lucky enough to find avocados on sale) with more vegetables. A drizzle of some extra olive oil on the salad will compensate for the reduction of fat from the avocado. You can also substitute any of cheeses in the recipes for other types of cheese that you may find on sale.
For the sake of keeping processed/synthetic ingredients out of your diet, focus on avoiding low-carb packaged foods — like most commercial protein bars or meal replacement shakes. These may provide fat and protein, and be low in sugar or carbs, but they’re still not beneficial overall if they contain things like processed protein powders, refined oils and artificial sweeteners.
Not everyone should opt for a low-carb diet. If you’re pregnant, it’s possible to be on a lower-carb diet (and may even be indicated if you are told you have gestational diabetes), but talk to your doctor to find out what’s right for you and to ensure that you’re covering any potential nutrient gaps. “Many women who are pregnant find that the thought of eating protein and fat makes them sick,” says Spritzler. This can be especially common in the first trimester. “They naturally want more carbs. You should always listen to your body,” she says.
The Mediterranean-style low carb diet approach, which we recommend in The Blood Sugar Diet, is a low sugar diet, low in starchy, easily digestible carbs, but packed full of disease-fighting vitamins and flavonoids. It is rich in olive oil, fish, nuts, fruit and vegetables, but also contains lots of lovely things that down the years we have been told not to eat, such as full fat yoghurt and eggs.
Low-carb diets may improve high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and triglyceride values slightly more than do moderate-carb diets. That may be due not only to how many carbs you eat but also to the quality of your other food choices. Lean protein (fish, poultry, legumes), healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) and unprocessed carbs — such as whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy products — are generally healthier choices.
Want to try intermittent fasting but not sure how to start? Follow Darya’s meal plan! A graphic designer at Diet Doctor, she eats a ketogenic diet and works out twice a week. While she enjoys cooking on the weekend, during the weekdays she usually cooks easy, quick meals and often skips breakfast. So this meal plan is perfect if you want to do intermittent fasting (16:8) Darya’s way! Then splurge on yummy keto breakfasts on the weekend.
If you have type 1, it's important to know that the best way to keep your blood sugar levels steady is to carb count rather than following a particular diet. And there is no strong evidence that following a low-carb diet is safe or beneficial, which is why we don’t recommend this diet for people with type 1 diabetes. But some people with type 1 have reported needing less insulin and losing weight from following a low-carb diet.