One of the best ways to get diabetes under control is by eating a low-carbohydrate diet. Carbohydrates include mostly sugars and starches, with fiber making up a smaller portion. Starches—as found in breads, pastas, pastries, crackers, etc.—break down into sugar in the digestive tract, so you can think of starches as “hidden sugars.” A diet high in carbohydrates is really a diet high in sugar, which triggers insulin resistance and high blood sugar, leading to diabetes. Yet for some reason, reducing carbohydrate intake has not been widely recommended. The starches have been overlooked while sugar gets all the blame.
In a recent review published in the journal Nutrition, researchers offer 12 points of evidence in support of a low-carbohydrate diet as first-line treatment of type 2 diabetes, and in conjunction with insulin in people with type 1 diabetes.
“Diabetes is a disease of carbohydrate intolerance,” stated Barbara Gower, PhD, one of the researchers. “Reducing carbohydrates is the obvious treatment. It was the standard approach before insulin was discovered and is, in fact, practiced with good results in many institutions. The resistance of government and private health agencies is very hard to understand.”
Here are some highlights from the review:
- High blood sugar is the most prominent feature of diabetes. Dietary carbohydrate restriction has the greatest effect on decreasing blood sugar levels.
- During the epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes, caloric increases have been due almost entirely to increased carbohydrate.
- Although weight loss is not required for benefit, no dietary intervention is better than carbohydrate restriction for weight loss.
- Replacement of carbohydrate with protein is generally beneficial.
- A diet high in total and saturated fat does not correlate with risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Fats in the blood are more affected by eating a diet high in carbohydrates than a diet high in fats.
- The best predictor of vascular complications (heart disease) in people with type 2 diabetes is blood sugar control. That is, better blood sugar control, less complications and vice versa.
- Dietary carbohydrate restriction is the most effective method of reducing high triglycerides and increasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
- Patients with type 2 diabetes on carbohydrate-restricted diets reduce and frequently eliminate medication. People with type 1 usually require lower insulin.
- Intensive lowering of blood sugar levels by restricting dietary carbohydrates has no side effects comparable to the effect so intensive diabetes medications.
The low-fat diet craze, which was supposed to lead to better health, has only worsened the situation of chronic disease in this country. People are beginning to get the message that we need fats in the diet, but they are slow to realize that we also need to cut the carbs.
If the points above aren’t enough to convince you to try to reduce your carbohydrate intake, I’m not sure what is. My last book, Heart of Perfect Health, delves into the topic of high blood sugar as it relates to heart disease (because it very much relates to heart disease), and recommends a low-carbohydrate, high-fiber diet complete with plenty of fiber.
“The low-fat paradigm, which held things back, is virtually dead as a major biological idea,” stated lead author, Richard David Feinman, PhD. “Diabetes is too serious a disease for us to try to save face by holding onto ideas that fail.”
What most low-carb diets miss, however, is the fiber component. Because fiber is technically a type of carbohydrate, low-carb diets can also be low in fiber. But I view fiber as a freebie carb. As long as it’s not found in starchy foods, fiber is your friend. The best source of fiber comes from non-starchy vegetables and low-sugar fruits. Not only do you get plenty of digestive benefits, but you also get plenty of nutrients when you eat these foods.