Is Low-Carb All it's Cracked Up To Be?

When someone is diagnosed with diabetes – either type 1 or type 2 – diet is always high on the list of questions he or she will have. What food is good for people with diabetes? Is there a specific “fad diet” that works best? Often, these questions are met with a single response: a diet that severely restricts the intake of carbohydrates.

This diet has been lauded as an answer to weight loss and glucose control, with advocates across the medical community and the mainstream media (actress Halle Berry, for example, credits her low-carb diet with helping her manage her type 1 diabetes).

But is the low-carb diet really the best option?

A Little History

Believe it or not, the low-carb diet wasn't always considered the go-to diabetes diet. Dr. Richard Kahn, the former chief scientific and medical officer of the American Diabetes Association, once praised the traditional food pyramid as a “diet for all of America” - a diet, you might remember, that focuses heavily on grains and carbohydrates.

It was Sarah Hallberg, an osteopath at a weight loss clinic in Indiana, and Osama Hamdy, the medical director of the obesity weight loss program at the Joslin Diabetes Center at Harvard Medical School, who criticized Dr. Kahn's suggestions, and suggested the low-carb diet for diabetics.

Since then, others in the medical community have added to the low-carb evidence: a Japanese study found that a low-carb diet decreased A1C and BMI in their patients; the New England Journal of Medicine found that people who eat low-carb see a marked increase in weight loss after 6 months on the diet; the Atkins diet saw incredible success as the new health fad.

Long Term Results?

As the New York Times pointed out in a recent story, “Some longer-term studies... failed to show that low-carbohydrate diets benefited glucose control.” In fact, even that New England Journal of Medicine study found that, 12 months after the study began, there was no significant difference between the low-carb group and the control group in terms of weight loss.

And if you ask Dr. Kahn, the initial weight loss doesn't count for too much in the long run. “In the short term, the low-carbohydrate diet sometimes does better on glycemic control,” he said. “But as time progresses, the difference mostly disappears. What counts is which diet helps most with long-term weight loss. ”

So, is low-carb really the best diet for diabetics? That depends on your body, your medication, and your individual needs. It is important that you talk extensively with your doctor before trying any kind of restrictive diet, and don't be afraid to make adjustments to your diet as you continue to treat your diabetes.

Above all, carefully managing your diabetes is about keeping healthy – and that includes exercise, diet, and individualized care.

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