Low-Carb Diet

What is a Low-Carb Diet?

Carbohydrate is the nutrient which has the greatest affect on raising blood glucose levels. It provides energy to help fuel the body and is broken down into glucose. As a result, carbohydrates require the most amount of insulin to be taken or produced by the body to regulate glucose levels. As a result, lowering glucose levels in the body will greatly benefit people who live with diabetes. Reducing the need for insulin in the body is extremely useful because it can help the body reduce insulin resistance.

The low-carb diet is flexible and many people who have diabetes follow this diet. People with type 1 diabetes have reported stable blood glucose levels because the diet makes the condition much easier to manage. Additionally, people have been able to reverse their type 2 diabetes by getting their blood glucose levels into the range of a non-diabetic without the help of medication.

Benefits of the Low-Carb Diet

The benefits of a low-carb diet are:

  • Insulin is a fat storage hormone. Reducing insulin with a low-carb diet can help towards weight-loss.

  • Lower HbA1c.

  • Less chance of high glucose levels.

  • Decreased risk of severe hypos.

  • Increased energy throughout the day.

  • Less cravings for sugary and snack foods.

  • Clearer thinking.

  • Lower risk of developing long-term health complications.

Counter Arguments for the Low-Carb Diet

The NHS doesn’t currently advocate a low-carb diet. Currently, there isn’t enough evidence to support the effectiveness and safety of a low-carb diet. However, more research in support of low-carb diets is appearing monthly. Furthermore, evidence from this research consistently supports the low-carb diet as far superior to a low-fat diet that is promoted by the NHS.

Levels of Carbohydrate Intake

The low-carb diet is a flexible way of eating. It allows you as an individual to choose the level of carbohydrate that works well for your diabetes and lifestyle. There are different brackets which categorise carbohydrate intake:

  • Moderate carbohydrate – between 130g and 225g.

  • Low carbohydrate – under 130g.

  • Very low carbohydrate – under 30g. (This bracket of carbohydrate intake is more like that of the keto diet).

In general, the less carbohydrate you consume, the more likely you are to lose weight and experience lower glucose levels.

When choosing your carbohydrate intake, you should only consider what is right for you and your diabetes. For example, someone with type 1 diabetes who doesn’t need to reduce their weight should opt for a moderate level of carbohydrate. In contrast, someone with type 2 diabetes and aiming to lose weight should aim for a very low level of carbohydrates.

It is always important to talk to your doctor before significantly lowering your carbohydrate intake. Insulin and some other medications can cause hypoglycemia, therefore low levels of carbohydrates could easily become an issue.

Carbohydrates and Weight Loss

The low-carb diet has been successful in aiding people with their weight loss. By reducing carbohydrate intake, there is a reduced need for insulin. Because insulin stores fat, less circulating insulin could help prevent, reduce or reverse weight gain. Additionally, the restriction of carbohydrates also reduces calorie intake, whilst over-eating and snacking will decrease as there is more focus on eating healthy, balanced foods.

Features of a Low-Carb Diet

When undertaking the low-carb diet, there are certain aspects to abide by. Firstly, there needs to a be a significant intake of vegetables. Secondly there should be a low reliance on processed food, sugar and grains.

Finally, there should be a modest increase of natural fat and protein intake to compensate for the lack of carbohydrate. The reduced calories can be made up with the following options:

  • Lean meat

  • Fish

  • Dairy

  • Eggs

  • Nuts

  • Avocados

  • Olives

  • Olive oil

Natural sources of fat will provide a balance of monosaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated fat. Avoiding processed food is essential because they often contain large amounts of saturated fat, which can cause health issues if consumed in large quantities, over an extended period of time. The same applies to protein, as unprocessed cuts of meat should be chosen.

Side Effects

When you change your diet, the body goes through a sort of adjustment period. As a result, there are some side effects to the low carb diet, however they should decrease as you become used to your new diet:

  • Fatigue

  • Brain fog

  • Headaches

  • Constipation from the increase in fat and protein

  • Possible nutrient deficiencies

  • Hypoglycaemia may occur if you take insulin or any other medications that cause low blood sugar. It is important to talk to your doctor about precautions to prevent hypos before beginning a low-carb diet.

Common Mistakes

Although the principle of a low-carb diet is simple, there are some common mistakes that can occur. They are easily dealt with and doing so can help you fully enjoy the benefits of a low-carb diet.

  • Not getting enough sleep – Sleep is necessary for the body to recharge and repair itself from day to day. Getting plenty of good quality sleep helps reduce inflammation, which has positive effects throughout the body such as lowering stress and the risk of heart disease.

Not getting enough sleep will affect hormone levels which can throw your metabolism out of balance. It can also cause lapses in healthy eating patterns when the likelihood of snacking is increased.

  • Snacking or grazing too much – If you’re trying to lose weight, snacking needs to be avoided. This is because snacking keeps insulin levels too high between meals. Because insulin is a fat storage hormone, high levels during the day will cause too much fat storage. Overall, snacking should be reduced as much as possible, unless you have a reason to be concerned about being underweight.

  • Eating too many carbohydrates – It is very easy to eat too many carbohydrates without even realising it; especially if you are consistently underestimating the carbohydrate content of food. It is important to put in the time and effort into looking up the carbohydrate content of food and assessing how that affects your overall intake of the day.

  • Eating too much protein – Protein should be moderate on a low-carb diet, which is around 50g to 60g per day. Consuming too much protein can prompt the liver to produce glucose. Increased glucose production ultimately leads to a greater need for insulin.

  • Eating fake carb foods – It is easy to be deceived by packaged foods claiming to be low-carb. They often make big claims without actually living up to them. Results will only come from a low-carb diet with consistent, sensible eating rather than short cuts.

  • Over-doing treat days – Occasional treat days or meals are generally fine, as long as they are kept in moderation and don’t get out of hand. It’s better to have a single meal rather than an entire day, because they can get out of hand if not kept to a minimum.