Diabetes is a chronic disease that has reached epidemic proportions. It currently affects over 400 million people worldwide. Although diabetes is a complicated disease, maintaining good blood sugar control can greatly reduce the risk of complications. One of the ways to achieve better blood sugar levels is to follow a low-carb diet. Carbohydrates or carbs raise blood glucose more than other foods, meaning the body must produce more insulin to digest them. Reducing carb intake can help stabilize blood glucose. It may also counteract some other effects of diabetes, such as weight gain and heart disease. Many people with diabetes are following a low-carb diet because of its benefits in terms of improving diabetes control, weight loss and is a diet that is satisfying and easy to stick to.
What is Diabetes, and What Role Does Food Play?
If you have diabetes, your body cannot process carbohydrates effectively. Normally, when you eat carbs, they are broken down into small units of glucose, which ends up as blood sugar. When the blood sugar level goes up, the pancreas responds by producing the hormone insulin. This hormone allows blood sugar to enter cells. In healthy people, blood sugar levels remain within a narrow range throughout the day. In diabetes, however, this system does not work the way it is supposed to. This is a big problem because having both too high and too low blood sugar levels can cause severe harm. There are several types of diabetes, but the two most common ones are type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Both of these conditions can be diagnosed at any age.
Carb Recommendations: There is no longer any expert-recommended standard carb intake for people with diabetes. A person’s carb needs vary with their activity level, weight, health goals, and other factors. A very low-carb diet includes just 30 grams(g) or less per day. Low -carb diets include 130 g or fewer of carbs, while moderate-carbs diets include between 130 and 225g of carbs.
Why follow a low-carb diet?
Carbohydrates are the nutrient which has the greatest effect in terms of raising blood sugar levels and requires the most insulin to be taken ot be produced by the body. Lowering sugar levels is clearly a benefit for people with diabetes. Lower need for insulin is also particularly useful as lowering insulin in the body can reduce insulin resistance which can help towards reversing type 2 diabetes. Insulin is also the fat-storage hormone in the body, so reducing insulin in the body with a low-carb diet can help with losing weight.
Benefits of low-carb food:
- Lower HbA1c
- Reduce weight
- Less chance of high sugar level occurring
- Lower risk of severe hypos
- More energy through the day
- Fewer cravings for sugary and snack food.
- Clearer thinking
- Lower risk of developing long-term health complications.
Which Carbs Raise Blood Sugar Levels?
Carbs in plant food are made up of a combination of starch, sugar, and fiber. Only the starch and sugar components raise blood sugar. Fiber that is found naturally in foods, whether soluble or insoluble, does not break down into glucose in the body and does not raise blood sugar levels. Prebiotic fiber, such as insulin, have even been shown to improve fasting blood sugar and other health markers in type 2 diabetes. Sugar alcohols such as maltitol, xylitol, erythritol, and sorbitol are often used to sweeten sugar-free candy and other diets products.
Foods to Eat: Most of the calories in a low-carb diet should come from healthful, natural sources and make sure to get enough protein at each meal:
- Meat, poultry, and seafood.
- Non-starchy vegetables
- Olive oil, coconut oil, butter, cream, sour cream, and cream cheese.
Foods to Eat in Moderation: The following food can be eaten in smaller quantities at meals, depending on your personal carb tolerance:
- Berries 1 cup or less.
- Plain, Greek yogurt- 1 cup or less
- Cottage cheese- 1/2 cup or less
- Nuts and peanuts-1-2 oz or 30-60 grams.
- Flaxseeds or chia seeds-2 tablespoons.
- Dark chocolate (at least 85% cocoa): 30 grams or less.
- Winter squash (butternut, acorn, pumpkin, spaghetti, and Hubbard):- 1 cup or less.
- Liquor: 1.5oz or 50 grams.
- Dry red or white wine-4 oz or 120 grams.
Reducing carbs usually lowers insulin levels, which causes kidneys to release sodium and water.
Foods to avoid: These foods are high in carbohydrates and can significantly raise blood sugar levels in diabetics:
- Bread, pasta, cereal, corn, and other grains.
- Starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, and taro.
- Legumes, such as peas, lentils, and beans (except green beans and snow peas).
- Fruit other than berries.
- Juice, soda, punch, sweetened tea, etc.
- Desserts, baked goods, candy, ice cream, etc.
Conclusion: Before trying any new diet, always talk to a doctor or dietitian. People can consider keeping a log of their symptoms and what they have eaten, to measure how the diet affects their health over time.