Overall, the Brinkworth team found that low-carb diets were successful after six months: people on these plans had lost, on average, about 7.5 pounds more than those on comparative diets, and their triglycerides (a type of blood fat) were lower.
In studies looking at diabetes remission, 57% of people on low-carbohydrate plans had gone into remission, compared with 31% of people on other diets. Remission meant that a person’s average blood sugar for the past three months was below the threshold for diagnosing diabetes.
However, after 12 months, most of the benefits of a low-carb diet were gone.
“Despite the glucose control benefits that very low-carb diets can offer, they can be very difficult to follow,” said Julie Stefanski, a registered nutritionist and certified diabetes advisor. It wasn’t part of the study.
The fact is, foods high in carbohydrates are enjoyable, difficult to avoid, and offer “emotional connections to our past,” said Stefanski, who is also the spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Aside from these hurdles, Stefanski said, strict limits on carbohydrates can cause people to lose some nutrients, including fiber and certain vitamins.
“To be successful on a very low-carb diet, people really need a game plan to address any issues that arise,” Stefanski said.
However, she agreed that starting on a strict low-carb plan and then moving on to a moderate diet can work. Stefanski also agreed that people with type 2 diabetes should speak to their doctor first – and possibly see a nutritionist about starting a low-carb diet.
In all studies, low-carb plans seemed safe in the short term. The one red flag appeared at a time when the diets tended to show increases in their LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind).
However, it is unclear what this could mean for their health, Brinkworth said.
In the end, said Stefanski, there is no one-size-fits-all diet for people with diabetes.
Also, not all carbohydrates are created equal. Stefanski said a diet high in vegetables and other high fiber foods can reduce inflammation and benefit people with diabetes.