A growing body of evidence suggests that dietary choices can have a significant impact on health outcomes, especially for individuals with diabetes. In particular, research has shown that a diet that is low in carbohydrates and high in fruits and vegetables while limiting animal products and refined carbohydrates may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer in people with diabetes.
A recent study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health provided further evidence of the benefits of such a diet. The study followed more than 10,000 people with diabetes from the long-running, female Nurse’s Health Study and the male Health Professionals Follow-up Study for more than a decade. Nearly half of the participants died during the period under investigation, with approximately 1,400 of them from cardiovascular disease and 900 from cancer.
The study’s researchers tracked the participants’ diets over the course of the study and found that those who followed a lower-carbohydrate diet, without excessive levels of unhealthy proteins and fats, had a lower risk of death. Specifically, individuals who consumed a diet that was lower in carbohydrates but still provided 30% to 40% of their daily caloric intake from carbohydrates had the best outcomes.
While truly low-carbohydrate diets, such as the ketogenic diet, have been found to be effective in research trials, they can be challenging to follow in the real world over the long-term. Therefore, the researchers focused on individuals who followed a more realistic low-carbohydrate diet that still included a moderate amount of carbohydrates.
The typical American diet provides 50% to 60% of daily caloric intake from carbohydrates, often from refined carbohydrates like white bread, white rice, and products made with flour from refined wheat or white rice. This type of diet is associated with higher risks of cardiovascular disease and other health issues.
The key to a healthy low-carbohydrate diet is to avoid sugary drinks, packaged cookies, and unhealthy proteins and fats, such as beef and other red meats, and high-fat dairy products. Instead, individuals with diabetes should focus on eating more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables to improve the overall quality of their diet.
In addition to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, a healthy low-carbohydrate diet may also aid in weight control. Excess weight is a common problem among individuals with diabetes and can exacerbate health issues related to the disease.
However, while a healthy low-carbohydrate diet can be beneficial, it’s important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition for individuals with diabetes. Different people may respond differently to different dietary approaches, and it’s important for individuals to work with a healthcare provider or registered dietitian to determine what diet is best for them.
For example, some individuals with diabetes may benefit from a diet that is higher in carbohydrates, especially if they are physically active and have good blood sugar control. Others may need to limit their intake of certain types of carbohydrates, such as those found in sugary beverages or highly processed foods.
Overall, the key takeaway from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health study is that a diet that is low in carbohydrates and high in fruits and vegetables, while limiting animal products and refined carbohydrates, may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer in people with diabetes. However, it’s important to work with a healthcare provider or registered dietitian to determine the best dietary approach for individual needs.