Diabetes can be prevented and even reversed with a carbohydrate restricted diet. Spending on diabetes has grown much faster than spending on heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S. In 2013, diabetes treatment cost the healthcare system $101 billion.
Although it is well known that diabetes can be well managed through dietary intervention, patients are still prescribed medications. The researchers aimed to treat diabetes by significantly cutting the patients’ carbohydrate intake. The researchers found that many of the patients were able to eliminate their medications.
Researcher Barbara Gower explained, “They are thrilled to stop injecting insulin, and they question why “no one ever told them” they could control their diabetes diet alone. The conventional advice to diabetics is to eat carbs, and then inject insulin – or take other drugs. The medication is needed because diabetes is a disease of carbohydrate intolerance. If the patient does not eat carbs, they do not have to use medication.”
The researcher used the cigarette analogy to illustrate how people look at diabetes prevention. We keep reminding people that smoking is bad to deter them from starting or to convince them to quit. The same could be done with sugar and processed starches to convince people to stop eating these foods. While many are skeptical about this approach, the smoking analogy shows that it works.
“We need to treat diabetes like lung cancer and COPD. All of these diseases are preventable with lifestyle,” Gower said. “Further, even with established, long-term, type 2 diabetes, it can be managed with diet. It is not impossible to eat a low-carb diet that is healthful and satisfying. We do it all the time, and we teach our patients to do it. They love it.”
“Carbohydrates are not essential nutrients for the human body, and with proper instruction, patients can adjust their diets to minimize them,” Gower concluded.
Low carbohydrate diets in practice: Diabetes management tips
There is much research to support that a low-carb diet can be beneficial for diabetics. Dr. Richard K. Bernstein is one of the advocates of a low-carb diet for diabetes. In his book, he wrote, “If the kinds of foods you’re eating give you consistently unpredictable blood glucose levels, then it will be impossible to normalize blood sugars.”
Dr. Bernstein recommends consuming dietary carbohydrates from non-starchy sources including vegetables, nuts, and other slow-digesting carb sources.
Dr. Helen Hilts has also been avidly prescribing her diabetic patients a low-carb diet for years. She explained, “I have a few hundred patients who have followed a very low carbohydrate diet for at least two years. I recommend no more than 30–45 grams of carbs a day, and those only come in low-carbohydrate vegetables, Greek yogurt, nuts, small portions of berries or tomatoes, etc. No roots, fruits, grains, or liquid milk.”
Dr. Hilts herself follows this type of eating, manages to keep her A1C (blood glucose indicator) below five percent, and does not take medication.
Before embarking on a low-carb diet for managing diabetes, it’s important you speak with your doctor or a dietician. They will inform you of the slow-digesting carbs and foods you should be eating and the foods to avoid. You will also get useful recommendations on how to plan balanced meals and maintain a healthy fluid and sodium balance, and above all the support you need to keep you on the right path.
It’s also important to know that a low-carb diet isn’t for everyone, so don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work for you. Working with your doctors and learning more about this style of eating can make your experience with a low-carb diet easier and more successful.
Related: Diabetes diet: Healthy snacks for managing diabetes