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How Low Carb Diets Affect Blood Sugar

written by: K. A. Arbuckle • edited by: lrohner • updated: 9/12/2010

The relationship between low carb diets and blood sugar control is an area being researched to help the prevention and treatment of diabetes. Eating foods low in carbohydrates and low on the glycemic index can help maintain normal, healthy blood glucose levels.

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    Research shows that a diet low in carbohydrates reduces blood sugar levels. Studies on low carb diets and blood sugar, such as one carried out by Duke University Medical Center, show a reduction in the need for medication and better blood sugar control on low carb and low glycemic diets. In type 2 diabetics, the reduction of carbohydrates in the diet also results in weight loss, furthering the improvements to overall health.

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    Carbohydrate's Affect on Blood Glucose Levels

    The body processes carbohydrates for energy, which are turned into glucose for quick fuel for the body. The more carbs you eat, the more glucose you have in your blood. For people who do not suffer from diabetes, this does not create as much of a problem because their pancreas secretes a hormone called insulin to control the levels. Diabetics, however, don’t have enough insulin or their bodies don’t use it correctly. The carbs then cause an uncontrolled spike in blood sugar levels. By reducing carbs, or consuming slower-acting complex carbohydrates, blood sugar levels can be reduced.

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    Low Carb Diet

    Many low carb diets specify the exact amount of carbohydrates to eat each day. Diabetics may be better served learning what foods contain carbohydrates and how large a serving size should be than simply following a specific diet. Foods that have high carbs include grain products, fruits, starchy vegetables, dairy products, and sweets. The American Diabetes Association recommends 45 to 60 carbs per meal, which is higher than many low carb diets promote; some recommend having only 20 grams of net carbs per day. A nutritionist can help you plan a low carb diet based on your specific needs, and help you to use the glycemic index to control blood sugar levels.

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    Glycemic Index

    The glycemic index aids in choosing the right carbohydrates to include in your diet. The index measures the effects carb-containing foods have on blood sugar levels. Foods with a higher GI rating cause rapid spikes in blood glucose levels over a short period of time. Lower GI-rated are released into the system slowly and over a longer period of time without causing severe spikes in blood sugar levels. When combined with a low carb diet, using the glycemic index can significantly affect blood sugar levels and the amount of medication needed.

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    Low Carb for Diabetics

    While a low carb diet can be effective in treating diabetes, especially for early stages of type 2, it is not enough to treat insulin-dependent diabetics. A low carb diet combined with insulin medication can cause very low blood sugar levels, or hypoglycemia. It is important for diabetics to discuss any dietary changes with their health care provider to avoid complications. Low carb diets and blood sugar control continue to be researched with promising results.