How a low carb diet may help to control, or prevent Type II diabetes

Diabetes is increasing rapidly in the UK, and worldwide, and this is largely due to the foods we eat in the typical UK diet. The average diet contains over 250g of carbohydrates yet people with diabetes cannot process carbohydrates effectively. When a high carb meal is consumed, the pancreas releases insulin, but the body’s cells are resistant to its action, so blood sugar remains high. To compensate, the pancreas produces more insulin, attempting to bring blood sugar down. Over time, following a high carb diet, the body becomes insulin resistant and Type 2 diabetes can occur. As insulin is known as the ‘fat storage hormone’ it can cause weight gain, and obesity, which often goes hand in hand with diabetes.

Foods that cause the rapid spikes in insulin include sugary in the form of fizzy drinks, sweets, cakes and confectionary. However, sugar can be found in other forms as it’s added to so many processed foods now, from sauces to condiments to bread. Even refined carbs, such as those found in cereals, rice and pasta cause this rapid insulin spike. By constantly fuelling the body with such foods, this can cause the insulin resistance which can lead to Type II diabetes.

The current nutritional guidelines have recommended a diet higher in carbohydrates as dietary fat was demonised as causing heart disease. Yet this wasn’t backed by scientific evidence and the increase in instances of Type 2 diabetes have risen over the last few decades as obesity has risen and more people are prescribed with medications rather than recommending dietary changes.

Many studies support low carb diets, such as Atkins, in the treatment, and prevention, of diabetes and they can lead to improvements in HbA1c, so blood sugar levels stabilise and body weight is reduced.  For people with impaired glucose tolerance, a low carb diet has been shown to effectively prevent progression to type 2 diabetes. In addition to these benefits, cardiovascular risk factors are improved on a low carb diet, much more significantly so than when consuming a low fat diet.

What lifestyle changes may prevent the development of type II diabetes?

Keep an optimal weight

Being overweight can increase your chance of developing this disease so staying at a healthy weight is advisable. By reducing refined and sugary carbs, you can stabilise blood sugar levels and your body will be less likely to store excess as bodyfat. Reducing carb intake will encourage the body to burn fat for energy, rather than glucose.

Reduce your intake of ‘bad’ carbs

Cut down on sugary & starchy carbs and 2 things will happen – you will be more likely to burn fat as fuel, rather than relying on a constant intake of carbohydrates and your body will be less likely to store excess bodyfat once your metabolism changes to a fat burning state. White bread, rice, potatoes, doughnuts and sugary breakfast cereals have a high glycaemic index and can lead to an increased risk of diabetes.

Cut out sugary drinks

Sugary, fizzy drinks have no nutritional value and even some fruit juices have the fibre taken out and sugar added in. Drinking just one sugar sweetened drink a day may increase the risk of developing diabetes by 83%. Not only do such drinks lead to weight gain but there’s mounting evidence that such drinks contribute to inflammation, high triglycerides, decreased “good” (HDL) cholesterol, and increased insulin resistance, all of which are risk factors for diabetes.

Eat more fibre & ‘good ‘carbs

Don’t cut carbs altogether, make sure you get plenty of complex carbs in the form of fibrous vegetables. Eating more fibre aids digestion, keeps you feeling fuller and you get plenty of nutrients from the vegetables, which don’t cause big spikes in blood sugar.

Eat more protein

Getting adequate protein with every meal keeps blood sugar levels stabilised and keeps you fuller for longer. Aim for moderate servings of eggs, fish, poultry and meat.

Don’t forget dietary fat

Although demonised in the past, healthy natural fats should play an important role in your diet so include avocados, olives, olive oil, salmon and moderate amounts of butter, cheese and other healthy fats

  • When carbs are reduced, blood sugar will go down and insulin and diabetes medication often needs to be reduced. Not doing so may result in too-low blood sugar so it’s important to speak to your GP prior to starting a low carb diet

Have you managed to fend of prediabetes, or even diabetes, through a low carb diet? If so, I’d love to hear your story!

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Posted by Linda O'Byrne
Atkins Nutritionist