Some low-carb diets may lower risk of type 2 diabetes

Credit: Ella Olsson/ Pexels

When it comes to reduced-carb diets, it may be quality, not quantity, that matters most.

In a study from Harvard University, scientists found that animal-based, low-carbohydrate eating was linked to a higher type 2 diabetes risk, whereas plant-based, low-carb eating was linked to lower diabetes risk.

Low-carb diets are popular because research shows they can rapidly reduce weight within six to 12 months. However, it’s unclear why they are so efficient at shedding pounds or how they affect long-term health.

Diets that restrict carbs increase fat and protein, and one theory is that this leads to a feeling of fullness, which helps reduce hunger. Another theory is that restricting carbs increases the body’s metabolism and helps burn calories.

There are at least a dozen popular low-carb diets, including the ketogenic diet – which severely restricts carbohydrates – and the Paleo diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables and lean meats and is modeled on foods that would have been available to humans during the Paleolithic Age.

Previous studies have suggested that very low-carb diets may improve blood glucose levels in people with prediabetes or Type 2 diabetes.

In the study, researchers found some low-carb diets may be better than others.

They examined the link between low-carb eating and the odds of developing Type 2 diabetes, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

The analysis used dietary and medical data for 203,541 adults from three large national studies.

Participants filled out questionnaires every four years about the foods they were eating and were followed for up to 30 years. None had diabetes at the outset.

The researchers created a score based on the percentage of total energy each person got from their daily intake of proteins, fats and carbohydrates.

Using these scores, participants were divided into five equal groups. The lowest-carb group in the study got about 40% of daily energy from carbohydrates.

The team found that people in the lowest-carb group who got more of their protein and fat from plant-based sources had a 6% lower Type 2 diabetes risk – and if their eating further minimized sugar and other refined carbohydrates, they had a 15% lower risk.

By contrast, the lowest-carb group eating diets emphasizing animal protein and fat had a 35% higher risk of Type 2 diabetes – and a 39% higher risk if their diets also minimized whole grains.

The American Heart Association recommends eating a diet that includes a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and healthy sources of protein, such as fish and seafood, legumes and nuts, low-fat or nonfat dairy and lean meats.

It encourages choosing minimally processed foods over ultra-processed foods and limiting sugar, salt and alcohol.

If you care about diabetes, please read studies about why diabetes strongly raises risk of severe COVID-19, and cinnamon could help control blood sugar in prediabetes.

For more information about nutrition, please see recent studies that vitamin D could improve blood pressure in people with diabetes, and results showing Mediterranean diet could help reduce the diabetes risk by 30%.

The study was conducted by Yeli Wang et al and presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions conference.

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