Low-carb diets have been all the rage for years when it comes to losing weight, but can eliminating certain carbohydrates in your diet also help manage blood sugar levels for people with diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic disease that currently affects nearly 30 million Americans, per the CDC. Although diabetes is a complicated disease, maintaining good blood sugar control can significantly reduce the risk of complications – and according to research, one of the most effective ways to achieve better blood sugar levels is to follow a low-carb diet.
The Link Between Blood Sugar and Carbs
Most of us probably have heard of skipping bread, rice and sugar when looking to shed a few pounds, but what’s the problem with eating carbs if you have diabetes?
Blood sugar comes from the food that we eat, and carbs (such as bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes) turn into different types of sugar as soon as they reach the stomach. The more carbohydrates we consume, the more our bodies absorb sugar into the bloodstream, and the higher the blood sugar will be.
Simply put, eating too many carbohydrate grams may cause a dangerous situation where more glucose becomes available to the cells than the body needs, which can be extremely problematic for people with diabetes.
Research Shows Low-Carb Diets Better at Lowering Blood Sugar than High-Carb Diets
Per the Mayo Clinic, a diet low in carbohydrates ranges between 20 and 60 grams of carbohydrates per day and consists of mostly “complex” carbohydrates such as naturally occurring whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. A low-carb diet also includes avoiding refined carbohydrates such as white bread, white rice and mainly sugar, as well as sugar-sweetened beverages
So, how does sticking to a low carb diet affect those looking to manage blood sugar levels? Not only were low-carb diets considered standard treatment for people with diabetes before the use of insulin, but a large body of research, including a 2006 study from the University of Sydney support low-carb diets for lowering blood sugar in the treatment of diabetes.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) has even changed its earlier stance on recommended carb intake in their meta-analysis suggesting that low-carbohydrate diets may have benefits in controlling blood sugar.
A Low-Carb Diet May Also Fight Pain and Inflammation
Sticking to a low-carb diet may also reap benefits beyond blood sugar control, according to studies. In 2014, Swedish researchers examined whether a low-carb diet would help with inflammation. In their research, patients were advised to follow either a low-fat (30 percent fat) diet or a low-carb (20 percent carb) diet with equal calories. Only those who followed a low-carb diet improved their markers of inflammation, as well as significantly reduced the amount of insulin they had to take.
Another study on the effects of a low-carb diet tested the long-term impact of a low-fat diet compared to a low-carb diet on conditions like chronic pain. Again, the low-carb diet was 20 percent carbs, with both diets restricted to the same number of calories. They found that both groups lost roughly the same amount of weight, but only the low-carb group improved their health-related quality of life.
The Right Amount of Carbs
According to a study published in 2005 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, keeping your daily carb intake to 20 grams a day helped significantly decrease the average blood-sugar levels and triglyceride levels within two weeks.
Based on the emerging evidence that eating a diet low in carbs does, in fact, affect blood sugar levels, the ADA recognizes that there’s not a one-size-fits-all eating pattern for individuals with diabetes. Instead, it calls for all adults diagnosed with diabetes to eat a variety of minimally processed, nutrient-dense foods in appropriate portion sizes as part of a balanced eating plan.
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