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A high-quality low-carb diet may help reduce mortality risk in type 2 diabetes. Image credit: Rocky89/Getty Images
  • Diabetes is a chronic condition that impacts how the body processes glucose (sugar).
  • Diet is a critical component of diabetes management, particularly among people with type 2 diabetes.
  • A​ recent study found that following a high quality, low carb diet may reduce mortality risk among people with type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes management involves looking at multiple aspects of health, including diet and exercise levels. People with diabetes can work with their doctors and other specialists to create a treatment plan that fits their needs.

Researchers are still working to understand what diet choices align with the best outcomes for people with diabetes. One area of interest is the intake of carbohydrates in the diet.

A recent study published in Diabetes Care found that following a low-carbohydrate diet may benefit people with type 2 diabetes.

Researchers found that following a low carbohydrate diet with high-quality macronutrients was associated with a lower mortality risk among people with type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes is a chronic condition that involves irregularities with the hormone insulin. In someone without diabetes, the body releases insulin so that the glucose from food can enter the body’s cells. From here, the cells can use the glucose for energy.

In someone with diabetes, the body’s response to or the amount of insulin changes. Glucose remains in the bloodstream at higher levels than in people without diabetes.

Diabetes can lead to long-term complications, so people with diabetes need to take proper management steps. A key component of diabetes management is diet.

Carbohydrates break down to glucose, meaning that people with diabetes need to be aware of the carbohydrates consumed and how they can impact blood glucose levels.

Registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist Nicole Anziani, at Cecelia Health in New York, not involved in the recent study, explained to Medical News Today:

“Carbohydrates impact blood sugar levels. Maintaining blood sugar levels by promoting a greater percentage of time in range, without large spikes, helps those living with diabetes stay healthier longer by preventing or delaying diabetes-related complications such as kidney disease, blindness, nerve damage, and blood vessel disease that can lead to heart attacks, strokes, and amputations.”

She added that “consuming healthy carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables is an important part of a healthy eating plan because they can provide both energy and nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, and fiber.”

The new study looked at low-carbohydrate diets, their macronutrient quality, and associated mortality among adults with type 2 diabetes.

Researchers included participants from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. Their analysis included over 10,000 participants.

Researchers looked at diet in relation to all-cause mortality and mortality from cardiovascular disease and cancer. Diet was assessed for several factors, including carbohydrate intake amounts and the quality of macronutrients.

The researchers created a scoring system to look at different low-carbohydrate diets, including low-carb diets focusing on vegetables or animals and low-carbohydrate diets that were healthy or unhealthy.

The study found that adhering to a low-carbohydrate diet was associated with lower all-cause mortality. However, the benefits of adhering to a healthy, plant-based, low-carbohydrate diet were the most pronounced. This diet option was associated with lower all-cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality.

Study author Dr. Yang Hu explained the key study findings to MNT:

“Our study shows that among people with established type 2 diabetes, a low-carbohydrate diet may have differential health effects on mortality depending on its composition. Our analysis suggested that only low-carbohydrate diets that emphasize plant-sourced fat, plant-based protein, and high-quality carbohydrates, such as those from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, were associated with significantly lower overall, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality.”

“Clinicians may find our results useful when providing dietary recommendations to diabetes patients,” he noted.

The researchers found that the benefits of following this diet may be most pronounced for those who follow certain lifestyle practices, including not smoking, engaging in moderate to vigorous exercise, and moderate alcohol consumption.

Anziani also commented that: “The study’s conclusion that following a healthier [low-carb diet] pattern has significant benefits in regard to mortality levels for patients with type 2 diabetes is compelling and can help providers design dietary protocols for their patients that benefits them both short- and long-term.”

T​his study did have several limitations. Firstly, the study does not show a causal relationship between the factors the researchers studied.

Secondly, the researchers acknowledge that people who adhered to a low-carb diet may have been more likely to incorporate other healthy practices like properly taking medications.

Thirdly, the average people who consumed a low-carb diet in the study still got between 30-40% of their energy intake from carbohydrates.

Thus, the researchers caution that the results may not apply to very low carbohydrate diets. Data did rely on participant reporting, which does introduce the possibility for errors in data collection.

Finally, researchers were limited by their sample, which was health professionals of European ancestry. Further studies could include more participant diversity to make findings more generalizable.

“Although our study examined the health effects of low-carb diets in people with diabetes, whether healthy low-carb diets could help prevent the development of major cardiometabolic disease including type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease in the general population is still not clear,” D​r. Hu noted.

“It is also of great interest for future studies to assess the associations between long-term adherence to low-carb diets and weight change, because the low-carb diet is often promoted as an effective diet pattern for weight loss,” he added.

Ultimately, diabetes management involves careful work with professionals to ensure the best possible health outcomes.

Registered dietitian and nutrition consultant at Lasta, Barbara Kovalenko, not involved in the study, offered the following words of caution to MNT:

“​It’s important to note that more research is needed to confirm this study’s findings and to investigate the long-term effects of low-carbohydrate diets on health outcomes in people with type 2 diabetes. Additionally, when making dietary changes, it is critical to consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian to ensure that nutritional needs are met and medications are managed appropriately.”