The American Diabetes Association (ADA) has overturned its decades-long stance on low-carb diets, particularly for the purpose of diabetes management. The report, published in Diabetes Care is the work of 14 ADA experts, led by Dr. William S. Yancy, Jr., a member of Diet Doctor’s medical review board, after careful review of the available research on the subject.
First, the ADA first acknowledged low-carbohydrate diets as an option for people with type 2 diabetes, whereas before it had treated these diet plans as potentially dangerous and unhealthy. Then, a year later, the organization went a step further and promoted low-carb eating as the preferable way of managing blood glucose in people with type 2 diabetes or who are at risk for diabetes. It also said that nutritional therapy is “fundamental” to diabetes management.
In the report, titled “Nutrition Therapy for Adults with Diabetes or Prediabetes: A Consensus Report,” the ADA states that “reducing overall carbohydrate intake for individuals with diabetes has demonstrated the most evidence for improving glycemia and may be applied in a variety of eating patterns that meet individual needs and preferences.”
The report continues, “For select adults with type 2 diabetes not meeting glycemic targets or where reducing antiglycemic mediations is a priority, reducing overall carbohydrate intake with low- or very low-carbohydrate eating plans is a viable approach.”
The low-carb diets studied include those that are comprised of 40 percent carbohydrates or less. This is much more than most low-carb diets prescribe, but even these “higher-carb” low-carb diets have been shown to lower triglycerides, raise good cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and reduce the need for diabetes medications when compared to low-fat diets.
This is a huge change from the ADA’s previous stance on the matter. Originally, the belief was that “low-carbohydrate diets (restricting total carbohydrate to less than 130 grams per day) are not recommended [because] they eliminate many foods that are important sources of energy, fiber, vitamins, and minerals and are important in dietary palatability.”
The association has also previously reported that the human brain requires 130 grams of dietary carbohydrates per day, a declaration that is missing from their most recent statement. Instead, they say, a person on a low-carb diet may make the glucose necessary for the brain through the body’s own metabolic processes.
Of course, a low-carbohydrate diet still doesn’t replace other actions your doctor may have recommended, such as exercise and taking certain medications. All these elements work together to form a healthy diabetes management plan.
It’s also important to remember that carbs aren’t the be-all and end-all of diabetes nutrition. The ADA report also emphasizes eating non-starchy vegetables, avoiding sugar and refined grains, and choosing whole foods over processed foods.
There is no one-size-fits-all diet plan that works for everyone, so make sure you’re working closely with your doctor or dietician to determine what food (and how much) is right for your body.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?