What is a Low-Carb Diet and Why You Should Eat That Way

Patient Expert

More and more doctors and researchers have begun to see the wisdom of our following a low-carb diet. But what are its advantages for those of us who have diabetes and what does low-carb mean anyway?

A critical review of “Dietary carbohydrate restriction as the first approach in diabetes management,” in the journal Nutrition early this year presented the evidence for its several big benefits:

Benefits of Eating Low-Carb

1. Such diets reliably reduce high blood glucose, the most salient feature of diabetes.

2. Benefits do not require weight loss although nothing is better for weight reduction.

3. Carbohydrate-restricted diets reduce or eliminate need for medication.

4. There are no side effects comparable with those seen in intensive pharmacologic [drug] treatment.

Because I have followed a low-carb diet without using any diabetes drugs ever since 2007, I have been able to keep my A1C level below 5.7 on a continual basis. I also lost weight this way and have kept my body mass index, or BMI, below 20.0 since 2008. I know from my own experience that the big benefits of eating little carbohydrates works.

But the Definition is Murky

The advantages of a low-carb diet now seem to be beyond dispute. But the definition of the term low-carb itself remains somewhat unclear.

The official position statement of the American Diabetes Association in its most recent “Nutrition Therapy Recommendations” states this problem well:

“There is no consistent definition of ‘low’ carbohydrate.” It adds that definitions in research studies range from 21 to 70 grams of carbohydrate per day for a “very low-carbohydrate” to a total diet of 30 to 40 percent of calories from carbohydrates for a moderately low-carbohydrate diet.

Other Definitions

The more recent study in Nutrition defines a low-carbohydrate diet as one that has fewer than 130 grams of carbohydrate per day or less than 26 percent of total energy. But the leading advocate for a low-carbohydrate diabetes diet to help us achieve a normal blood sugar level doesn’t appear to have offered a definition in the fourth edition of his key work, Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution, at least with my search of my Kindle edition of the book.

Dr. Richard K. Bernstein has prescribed a very low-carb diet to thousands of his patients with diabetes since he opened his practice in 1983. He has diabetes himself and has followed a very low-carb diet since 1970 when he became the first diabetes patient to use a blood glucose meter. Dr. Bernstein encourages his patients to set carbohydrate limits for each meal of no more than 6 grams for breakfast, 12 grams for lunch, and 12 grams for dinner. This is a total of 30 grams of carbohydrate per day. This is certainly a very low-carb diet and one that I usually follow myself.

Eat to Your Meter

But whatever you call a low-carb or very low-carb diet, the key to diabetes management is this definition that “Calgary Diabetic” offers: “the amount of carbs per day that you can safely eat and maintain your blood sugar in the normal range at all times.” When you have diabetes, you need to “eat to your meter.”

See more of my articles about how to manage diabetes:

Low Carbs Cut Diabetes Inflammation

A Diet for Managing the Most Common Condition of Diabetes

9 Low-carb Foods You Should Eat More Often