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low carb diabetes diet

Should Everyone with Diabetes Follow a Low Carb Diet?

October 27, 2015

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Should everyone with diabetes follow a low carb diet? Not necessarily, is the short answer. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) nutrition recommendations specifically state, “…there is not a ‘one-size-fits-all eating pattern for people with diabetes’ and there is no longer one so-called Diabetic Diet.ADA’s recommendations promote a range of eating patterns for a healthy diet for diabetes, from vegetarian, typically higher in carbohydrate, to a lower carbohydrate eating plan. Most importantly, ADA’s guidelines encourage you to find an eating pattern that helps you accomplish your health and nutrition goals, initially and over time while being easy to follow over the years. Read more on this topic, “Is There a ‘Diabetic Diet’?”

Now let’s dig into the low carb matter.

It’s easy to understand why you may have gotten the notion you need to retreat from eating foods that contain carbohydrate. It’s likely you’ve learned that carbohydrate is the main nutrient in foods that raise blood glucose levels. (Just so you know, all foods contain one or more of varying amounts of three calorie containing nutrients – carbohydrate, protein and fat. Foods are packages of nutrients.)

Two Main Types of Carbohydrate

But don’t jump to conclusions and place all sources of carbohydrate in one bucket. All sources of carbohydrate are not nutritionally equal. They break into two main groups. One is healthy carbohydrates, which include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (beans and peas) and low fat dairy foods. Two is the not-so-healthy sources of carbohydrate, which include refined grains, sugary foods and sweets.

Unfortunately, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, too many people eat too much of the not-so-healthy carbohydrate and too few of the healthier sources of carbohydrate. When it comes to choosing the carbohydrate you eat, quality is just as critical as quantity.

Healthy sources of carbohydrate offer you your main energy source, glucose. They also contain key nutrients, like fiber and other vitamins and minerals that many people don’t eat enough of, such as vitamin D, calcium, and potassium. You’ve got to eat enough carbohydrate from a variety of healthy sources of carbohydrate to get your fill of the nutrients you need for good health.

Diabetes Nutrition Management

While it’s easy to place your focus squarely on carbohydrate intake and glucose control, that’s only one piece of nutrition for diabetes. Another critical piece is having a sufficient supply of insulin at-the-ready in your body when you need it. Insulin helps the body’s cells use the glucose created from digesting food. A sufficient supply of insulin will come from your body, if your body continues to make enough insulin. And/or it will be available with help from the glucose-lowering medications (other than insulin) you take to help you use the insulin you make efficiently. For people who make little to no insulin, your available insulin will come from shots or an insulin pump.

It’s worth noting that all people with type 1 diabetes take insulin and most people with type 2 diabetes need to start on one or more glucose-lowering medication soon after being diagnosed.

Here’s a key message about controlling your glucose levels over the years: If you’re eating a healthy amount and quality sources of carbohydrate and you’re not able to control your blood glucose levels, then it’s best to bring this to the attention of your diabetes healthcare provider as soon as possible. Work with your healthcare provider to determine the changes you need to make in your eating plan.

Also, diabetes experts agree that there’s more to managing diabetes and staying healthy than just keeping a watchful eye on your blood glucose levels. It’s critical to control your blood lipid levels (that includes your good-cholesterol (HDL), bad-cholesterol (LDL), and triglycerides, as well as your blood pressure). It’s the control of all of these factors over time that research shows gives you the best shot at staying healthy with diabetes.

You’ll want to eat healthfully to control your blood lipids and blood pressure. Generally speaking, this means eating the right amount of healthy carbohydrate for you, lean types of protein that minimize saturated fat, and choosing healthier fats, such as liquid oils from plant-based sources like seeds and nuts.

One Healthy Change at a Time

So in summary, there’s no need to wipe your plate clean of carbohydrate. Be smart, give carb counting a try and choose an eating plan and pattern of eating that best fits your needs, lifestyle and food preferences. Don’t aim to try to make too many changes too fast. Make one healthy change at a time.

And don’t think you need to completely erase sugary foods and sweets from your favorite foods list. According to ADA you can enjoy sweets on occasion and in line with your nutrition and health goals. But, also consider satisfying your sweet tooth and keeping your carbohydrate and calorie count lower with a low calorie sweetener like SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener. Use SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener to sweeten hot or cold beverages or to prepare main courses, side dishes, snacks, beverages and desserts. Need ideas for diabetes friendly* recipes? Take a look here and browse under the recipe “categories” for “Diabetes Friendly.”

* The SPLENDA® Brand defines diabetes friendly as foods or beverages that contain less than 35% of total calories from fat, less than 10% of total calories from saturated fat, and no more than 45 grams of carbohydrate per serving.

November is American Diabetes Month® – learn more at .

Hope Warshaw, MMSc, RD, CDE, BC-ADM, is a nationally recognized dietitian and diabetes educator who applies more than 35 years of expertise as an author, freelance writer, media spokesperson, consultant and diabetes educator. Hope notes: “Healthy eating today is one tough job! The good news is that simple tweaks in your food choices and how you prepare foods can often set you on a path to healthier eating. Each positive step is a step in the right direction along the path to a long and healthy life.”


  1. Evert A, Boucher J, et al. Nutrition therapy recommendations for the management of adults with diabetes. Diabetes Care: 2013;36(11):3821-3842.
  2. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 (Accessed 8/27/15)
  3. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report, 2015. (Accessed 8/27/15)
  4. American Diabetes Association. Approaches to glycemic treatment. Standards of medical care in diabetes – 2015. Diabetes Care. 2015;38(supp 1):S41-S48.
  5. American Diabetes Association. Approaches to glycemic treatment. Standards of medical care in diabetes – 2015. Diabetes Care. 2015;38(supp 1):S49-S57.

For more information about planning a healthy diet, visit the Diabetes Management section of this blog.

October 27, 2015  |  POSTED BY: Hope Warshaw, MMSc, RD, CDE, BC-ADM  |  IN: Diabetes Management


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