Over the last 15 years, there have been numerous clinical trials evaluating the effects of low-carb diets on weight loss. Because of this research, there seems to be a growing level of acceptance that low-carb diets produce at least equal, but more often greater, weight loss than higher-carb control diets, at least in the short term. But recently, there seems to be increased interest in whether low-carb diets offer advantages beyond weight management. For example, the utility of low-carb diets for boosting performance of endurance athletes has recently been explored in a number of recent publications (see review article by Dave Ellis, RD, CSCS), as have the benefits of low-carb diets for type 2 diabetes (T2D) management.
Last month, Tay et al.1 compared the effects of a low-carb (<50 g/day), low saturated fat (<10% of total calories), reduced calorie diet to a low saturated fat, high-carb diet (53% of total calories; based on low-glycemic index foods) on glycemic control and cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors in 115 obese adults with T2D. Following the 24-week intervention, both groups achieved similar levels of weight loss; however, the low-carb diet group saw greater reductions in plasma triglycerides, glycosylated hemoglobin and antiglycemic medication use. The results were most prominent in those with greater metabolic dysfunction. There were no changes in other cardiovascular risk markers, except for a small increase in high-density cholesterol (HDL-C) concentrations in a subset of subjects with low HDL-C levels at baseline.
This is not the first study of its kind to report superiority of a low-carb diet in those with T2D. In fact, the science was recently reviewed in a paper published last month in the journal Nutrition2. The authors, a group of 26 highly respected research scientists, critically evaluated the totality of the evidence and concluded that carbohydrate restriction is safe and more effective than other dietary approaches for the management of T2D and should be employed first as part of a diabetes lifestyle management plan.
While evidence seems to suggest that such diets may elicit a range of health benefits, whether they are practical in our carbohydrate-laden food environment is up for discussion.
1Tay J, Luscombe-Marsh ND, Thompson CH, et al. A very low carbohydrate, low saturated fat diet for type 2 diabetes management: A randomized trial. Diabetes Care. 2014 (Epub ahead of print).
2Feinman RD, Pogozelski WK, Astrup A, et al. Dietary carbohydrate restriction as the first approach in diabetes management. Critical review and evidence base. Nutrition. 2014 (Epub ahead of print).