Here we’ll explain what we mean by low-carb, what the benefits are of low-carb eating when you have diabetes, and share a low-carb meal plan to help you get started if this is the diet for you. We’ll also explain how to get support to manage any potential risks, especially if you manage your diabetes with medications which put you at risk of hypos.
It’s really important to first reduce your carb intake from unhealthy sources such as sugary drinks, pizzas, cakes, biscuits, chips, white bread, fruit juices and smoothies. And it is a good idea to get your limited carbs from healthy high-fibre carb foods, such as pulses, nuts, vegetables, whole fruits and whole grains, as well as unsweetened milk and yoghurt.
Severely restricting carbohydrates to less than 0.7 ounces (20 grams) a day can result in a process called ketosis. Ketosis occurs when you don't have enough sugar (glucose) for energy, so your body breaks down stored fat, causing ketones to build up in your body. Side effects from ketosis can include nausea, headache, mental and physical fatigue, and bad breath.
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.
Low-carb diets may improve high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and triglyceride values slightly more than do moderate-carb diets. That may be due not only to how many carbs you eat but also to the quality of your other food choices. Lean protein (fish, poultry, legumes), healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) and unprocessed carbs — such as whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy products — are generally healthier choices.