Turns out, what’s low carbohydrate for one person isn’t for another. “There’s no medical definition of what low carb is,” says Columbus, Ohio–based Kelly Schmidt, RD. Basically, it’s reducing the number of carbs you eat from your norm. In general, however, a low-carb diet may include 50 to 100 grams (g) of carbohydrates per day, she says. Below that is considered a ketogenic diet, while 100 to 200 g of carbohydrates per day is a moderate-carb diet.
However, there’s no evidence that following a low-carb diet is any more beneficial in managing diabetes than other approaches in the long term, including a healthy, balanced diet. Research suggests that the best type of diet is one that you can maintain in the long term, so it's important to talk to your healthcare professional about what you think will work for you. Another option is the Mediterranean diet, which is also linked to reducing the risk of heart diseases and stroke.
Not everyone should opt for a low-carb diet. If you’re pregnant, it’s possible to be on a lower-carb diet (and may even be indicated if you are told you have gestational diabetes), but talk to your doctor to find out what’s right for you and to ensure that you’re covering any potential nutrient gaps. “Many women who are pregnant find that the thought of eating protein and fat makes them sick,” says Spritzler. This can be especially common in the first trimester. “They naturally want more carbs. You should always listen to your body,” she says.
If you treat your diabetes with insulin or any other medication that puts you at risk of hypos (low blood sugar levels), following a low-carb diet may increase this risk. Speak to your healthcare team about this so they can help you adjust your medications to reduce your risk of hypos. Your team may also support you to check your blood sugar levels more often.