Low-Carb Approach to Managing Blood Sugar & Reversing Type 2 Diabetes

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The number of adults struggling with type 2 diabetes and prediabetes is 133 million people. That’s more than half of the US adult population! Since diabetes often leads to other chronic conditions and is itself the 7th leading cause of death in the US, we have to do something about this problem. Afterall, both prediabetes and type 2 diabetes are reversible! 

So, what is an effective solution to this problem that plagues more than half of American adults? Lifestyle change. What we eat and how we move our bodies play big roles in solving this issue, but in this article we’re going to focus on how a low-carb style of eating can be particularly effective.

Why Low-Carb for Managing Blood Sugar & Reversing Type 2 Diabetes?

As we discussed in my articles on type 2 diabetes and prediabetes, a few major underlying factors for how this condition develops includes an excessive intake of carbohydrates, often in combination with a sedentary lifestyle. 

These conditions develop slowly, over the course of years of this type of lifestyle. Carbohydrates that we consume are broken down to glucose, and this excessive amount of glucose eventually overburdens the ability of our cells to process it, causing insulin resistance. Insulin, if you recall, is the hormone that helps shuttle glucose into the cells.

If one of the main root causes of this condition is excess carbohydrate intake, you would assume that reducing carbohydrates in the diet creates a shift in metabolism that can reverse diabetes, right? That is indeed what happens when people with prediabetes and diabetes shift to a low-carbohydrate style of eating! 

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) specifically states in their 2019 consensus report on nutritional therapy for adults with diabetes or prediabetes that “reducing overall carbohydrate intake” is the nutritional approach that has the most evidence for improving blood sugar control.

Now that we know that low-carbohydrate styles of eating are the best nutritional approach for improving blood sugar control in type 2 diabetes and prediabetes, let’s talk about what that is!

example keto meal for people with prediabetes

What is Low-Carb?

A common area of confusion is distinguishing between a low-carbohydrate (low-carb) diet and a ketogenic (keto) diet. While both approaches share the goal of controlling blood sugar and improving insulin sensitivity, they differ in their carbohydrate intake levels, metabolic effects, and intended purposes. Let’s delve into the nuances that set them apart.

Carbohydrate Intake

  • Low-Carb Diet: A low-carb diet typically involves reducing daily carbohydrate consumption, but there is no official consensus on the specified amount of carbs that defines ‘low carb’. That said, less than 130 grams of carbs per day is generally considered to be low-carb. It’s more flexible in terms of carb intake, allowing individuals to customize their carbohydrate levels based on their needs and preferences.
  • Ketogenic Diet: The ketogenic diet, on the other hand, is meticulously structured to be very low in carbohydrates. It usually consists of less than 50 grams of net carbs per day. Net carbs is the amount of total carbs minus fiber. The primary objective is to induce a state of nutritional ketosis, where the body predominantly uses fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates. This results in significant improvements in blood sugar and insulin levels.

Metabolic State

  • Low-Carb Diet: A low-carb diet focuses on moderating blood sugar levels by minimizing carbohydrate intake. It can lead to improved blood sugar control but doesn’t necessarily induce ketosis, and may be a slower way to reach your blood sugar goals than if you started with a ketogenic diet for a period of time.  
  • Ketogenic Diet: The hallmark of a ketogenic diet is achieving and maintaining a state of ketosis. In ketosis, the body primarily burns fat for energy, including fat from dietary sources and stored body fat. The metabolic shift offers distinct advantages for blood sugar control and weight loss for those with diabetes, prediabetes, or insulin resistance.

Purpose and Flexibility

  • Low-Carb Diet: A low-carb diet is adaptable and versatile. It can serve as a long-term dietary approach to manage blood sugar and support overall health. It allows for a wider range of food choices, which can be appealing for those seeking more variety in their meals.
  • Ketogenic Diet: The ketogenic diet is often used as a short-term or therapeutic approach, as is the case in the 5 Week Blood Sugar Reset. It is particularly useful for rapid weight loss, significant blood sugar reduction, and metabolic improvements, making it an attractive option for people with diabetes and prediabetes. However, some people find it challenging to sustain over extended periods, which is why I educate on how to shift to another low-carb style of eating that’s more sustainable at the end of the 5 Week Blood Sugar Reset program.

While both low-carb and ketogenic diets offer valuable tools for diabetes and prediabetes management, the primary distinctions are in the extent of carbohydrate restriction and the metabolic state they aim to achieve. The choice between these dietary approaches depends on individual preferences, goals, and the ability to adhere to the specific requirements of each style of eating.

What Are Examples of Low-Carb Foods?

Understanding which foods fall into the category of low-carbohydrate (low-carb) is helpful when embarking on a dietary plan for diabetes management or blood sugar control. It can be confusing, but a way to keep it simple is to focus on prioritizing healthy fats, quality protein, and low-carb fruits and veggies. Here are a few examples of foods that fall into each of those categories:

Healthy Fats:

  • Avocado
  • Olive oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel)
  • Grass-fed butter

 

Quality Protein:

  • Quality meats (chicken, turkey, beef, pork, lamb, wild game)
  • Fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel)
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds

 

Fruits & Vegetables:

  • Berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries)
  • Avocado
  • Lemon and lime 
  • Leafy greens (spinach, kale, arugula, etc.)
  • Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts)
  • Celery
  • Zucchini

 

While this may be obvious, it’s worth pointing out that a low-carb style of eating also means cutting out sugar. To learn more about which sweeteners are healthier swaps for sugar that are acceptable on a low-carb or keto diet, this article is helpful.

It’s important to note that individual tolerance for carbohydrates can vary, so total daily carb intake should align with your specific blood sugar goals. It’s always a good idea to monitor blood sugar levels when making dietary changes and to seek guidance from a qualified health professional who is well-versed in nutrition.

a low-carb meal

Are There Side Effects of Low-Carb Diets?

As with any dietary plan, low-carb styles of eating come with potential side effects. It’s crucial to be aware of these side effects, as they can vary from person to person and can impact your experience with this style of eating.

‘Keto Flu’ Symptoms

The metabolic transition to primarily using fats and ketones as fuel results in excreting more water and sodium. If adequate hydration isn’t maintained and electrolytes are not replaced, people can experience symptoms known as the ‘keto flu’. 

Keto flu symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Brain fog
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Muscle cramps or twitching
  • Difficulty sleeping 

 

Maintaining adequate hydration and replacing electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium) often resolve these symptoms!

Nutritional Inadequacies

A low-carb diet may lead to potential nutritional inadequacies if not adequately planned, particularly in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. 

A common pitfall of a ketogenic diet that is NOT well-constructed is a lack of adequate fiber. Fiber is essential for optimal gut health. Since the gut microbiome (the trillions of microorganisms that live in the gut) plays a role in healthy blood glucose regulation, it’s important to ensure you’re getting enough fiber to support a healthy microbiome!

Following a well-constructed low-carb or keto style of eating that includes adequate fiber, micronutrients, and plant phytonutrients will eliminate nutritional inadequacies.

Social and Psychological Challenges

Adhering to a low-carb diet can be challenging in social situations, leading to feelings of restriction or isolation. It’s important to note that this style of eating is typically not recommended for people with a history of an eating disorder because it can be triggering. For those that don’t have a history of disordered eating, open communication with friends and family about your dietary choices and health goals can help reduce some of the social stress, and seeking support from a therapist, communities or support groups can help mitigate these challenges.

It’s important to remember that while side effects may occur, many individuals experience substantial benefits from low-carb diets, particularly in blood sugar control and weight management. Seeking guidance from a health professional well-versed in nutrition can help you navigate these potential side effects.

people eating a low-carb meal

How To Eat Low-Carb?

Embarking on a low carbohydrate diet involves a deliberate reduction in the amount of carbohydrates you consume. The extent to which you reduce carbs depends on your personal goals and health needs. For some, a moderate reduction is sufficient to maintain stable blood sugar levels and achieve desired outcomes. 

Others may opt for a more significant reduction to induce a state of ketosis, where the body primarily utilizes fats for energy. The key to success is to utilize a style of eating that is well-balanced in essential nutrients, and to pay attention to electrolytes and hydration when using a ketogenic approach.  

Start by identifying sources of high-carb foods in your current diet and replacing them with low-carb alternatives, such as leafy greens, quality proteins, and healthy fats. Over time, you can fine-tune your carb intake to align with your specific health goals, whether that’s better blood sugar control, weight loss, or metabolic improvements.

Low-Carb Meal Plans & Programs

When choosing a ketogenic approach, it can be helpful to follow a plan or program that is thoughtfully crafted and well-balanced. The benefits and results of this style of eating can be dramatic, especially for people with metabolic imbalances like prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. I’ve created a few options to help people with this style of eating.

Diabetes & Prediabetes 3-Day Keto Meal Plan

This 3-Day meal plan was created for people that want to sample a thoughtful, well-constructed ketogenic style of eating. This meal plan includes a delicious selection of 3 breakfast, 3 lunch, and 3 dinner recipes to keep your taste buds happy. You’ll also find 2 snack ideas and 1 luscious dessert recipe to enjoy. This meal plan was designed to keep your blood sugar balanced while ensuring you’re satisfied and well-nourished! You can get the meal plan HERE.

5 Week Blood Sugar Reset

For those that are looking for a more comprehensive program with weekly meal plans and guidance on nutrition and other lifestyle practices that are proven to help reverse diabetes and prediabetes, the 5 Week Blood Sugar Reset is a great solution. 

This program also includes a ketogenic approach to nutrition, with 4 weeks of thoughtfully constructed keto meal plans along with weekly prep guides to help make the process easier. At the end of the program I provide guidance on how to move forward with either a keto approach or another style of eating that is less restrictive but still allows you to maintain your results on the journey to reversing type 2 diabetes. You can sign up for the 5 Week Blood Sugar Reset HERE.

Conclusion

A low-carbohydrate style of eating is particularly valuable for people with type 2 diabetes and prediabetes, given its ability to dramatically improve blood glucose control and insulin function. This can be done with a low-carb or a ketogenic style of eating, of which a keto approach is more restrictive but also has the potential to offer greater benefits for those with diabetes when used for a period of time. 

Regardless of the particular low-carb approach, a well-balanced way of eating that includes adequate fiber, vitamins and minerals is important. It’s essential to work with a knowledgeable professional for guidance on this style of eating, and talk with your doctor if medication adjustments are needed.

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