If you have type 2 diabetes, a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet – with no restrictions on calories – might help you lose weight while keeping your blood-glucose levels in check, according to a new study.
In fact, such a diet works better for those with type 2 diabetes than a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet, according to researchers at the University of Southern Denmark.
The researchers found that those on the low-carb, high-fat diet:
- Reduced hemoglobin A1c levels by 0.59% compared to those on the other diet
- Lost more body fat and shrunk their waist circumference compared to those eating the other diet
However, the study’s findings do not mean everyone with type 2 diabetes should switch to this type of diet, says Caroline West Passerrello, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and instructor at the University of Pittsburgh.
“There is no one perfect ratio of carbohydrates to fat and protein all folks with type 2 diabetes should aim for,” she says. “What works for one person may not work for someone else.”
What the study found
The study included 165 people with type 2 diabetes. People with this condition find that their body becomes resistant to insulin, a hormone that regulates the amount of glucose that goes into the body’s cells, providing the cells with energy.
While there is no cure for type 2 diabetes, patients who make the right lifestyle changes can better control the condition and its impact.
For six months, participants in the study were divided into groups that followed either a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet or a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet.
Participants in both groups ate the same number of calories, which were equal to the daily levels of energy the participants burned.
The researchers said they were surprised that the study participants who followed the low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet were able to both improve their glycemic control and to lose weight despite not restricting their calorie intake.
However, Passerrello notes that the researchers also found that participants did not maintain the reduction in A1c after the completion of the study.
“This indicates there may be metabolic benefits to eating fewer carbohydrates related to fat, but the current approach — in the study — was not sustainable,” she says.
In addition, the researchers say study participants who followed the low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet also experienced an increase in both low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and apolipoprotein B.
“These two values have been shown to be cardiovascular risk factors,” she says.
Passerrello agrees with the researchers’ conclusion that more long-term studies are needed to see if the benefits of switching to a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet outweigh this small increase in cardiovascular risk.
Low-carb diet for diabetics: Should you switch?
Despite the promising results in the study, those with type 2 diabetes should not automatically assume that a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet is right for them, Passerrello says.
“It is important for those taking medication for type 2 diabetes to discuss all dietary changes with their health care professional,” she says.
Passerrello notes that many factors come into play when considering how an individual’s body maintains glycemic control. A few examples include:
- Stress levels
- Taste preferences
- Medication regimes
“Every individual — and therefore, treatment plan — is unique,” she says.
She urges people with type 2 diabetes to seek out the help of a registered dietitian nutritionist before making dietary changes.
“Dietary management of type 2 diabetes is doable,” Passerrello says. “Changes to the diet should start small and be sustainable over time.“
Working with an RDN can help you find a ratio of carbohydrates to fat and protein that “suits your lifestyle, supports your heath goals, and is sustainable over time,” she says.