The American Academy of Family Physicians defines low-carbohydrate diets as that which restrict carboyhydrate intake by reducing the consumption of carbohydrates to 20 to 60 grams per day, which is typically less than 20 percent of the daily caloric intake. Such a diet also increases consumption of protein and fats to compensate for part of the calories that usually come from carbohydrates. The amount of carbohydrates in a food is usually present in the label, or easily obtainable from nutritional books.
A low carbohydrate diet may help diabetics to reduce their blood sugar levels. There are various types of low carbohydrate diets in the market. Some popular ones include the Atkins diet, low glycemic index diet, the New York Diet, Zone Diet, Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet and others.
Vegetables constitute the base of the food pyramid, and any low carbohydrate diets for diabetics invariably include three to five cups of non-starchy vegetables per day.
Vegetables low in carbohydrates include sprouts, such as beans and alfalfa, leafy greens, like lettuces, spinach, and chard, hearty greens such as collards, mustard greens, and kale, herbs such as parsley, cilantro, basil, rosemary, and thyme, bok choy , celery, radish, sea vegetables such as nori, cabbage, mushrooms, avocado and cucumbers, asparagus, broccoli, and cauliflower among others. Tomatoes, eggplant and onions also marginally pass as low carb vegetables.
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Meat and Protein Foods
Proteins come second in the food pyramid. The healthiest proteins are lean proteins that have the least amount of fat and calories.Good food choices for animal protein include fish or shellfish, skinless chicken or turkey, skim milk, low-fat cheese, and egg whites. Good food choices for plant protein include most beans, nuts, lentils, tofu or soy milk.
Most meats and related foods fit a low-carbohydrate diet, with tofu the best option. One-half cup of tofu has ten grams of protein and one gram of carbohydrate.
Most protein foods are low in carbohydrates. The major protein foods high in carbohydrates include:
- Breaded meats and meats served with high-carbohydrate sauces
- Mussels and oysters
- Hams, luncheon meats and processed meats with nitrites, such as hot dogs and bacon
Red meats, fried fish, and cheeses are high in protein but usually remain excluded from a low carbohydrate diet owing to the high fat and calorie content of these foods which impede weight-loss, a pressing concern for most diabetes patients.
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Fruits with low sugar content constitute an important component of a low carbohydrate diabetic diet.
Fruits lowest in sugar content includes lemon, lime, rhubab, raspberry, blackberry, and cranberry. Strawberry, papaya, watermelon, peach, nectarines, blueberry, cantaloupe, apple, guava, and apricot contain low to medium sugar. Plum, orange, kiwifruit, pear, pineapple, tangerine, cherries, grapes, pomegranate, mango, fig, and banana are fruits with high sugar content and as such need avoidance in a low carbohydrate diabetes diet.
The optimal fruit serving in a diabetes diet is three to five cups. Fruit juice lacks fiber and some of the nutrients of the whole fruit, and raises blood sugar much more, and as such need avoidance from a diabetes diet.
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Whole grains, such as brown rice and barley, constitute an important part of the food pyramid and form part of most moderately low-carbohydrate diets. Whole grains are rich in fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, plant enzymes, hormones, and many other phytochemicals, making them among the most healtiest of food choices even without carbohydrate or diabetes considerations. Such health benefits prompt experts to suggest that diabetes patient get most of their required essential carbohydrates from whole grains.
The Insulin Resistance Atherosclerosis Study suggests cutting back on refined grains and eating more whole grains improve insulin sensitivity. Foods with a high glycemic index, such as white bread, cause rapid spikes in blood sugar, whereas whole grain based foods such as whole oats have low glycemic index, causing them to be digested slowly, and causing a lower and gentler change in blood sugar.
The Harvard School of Public Health reports that a study of more than 160,000 women extending for 18 years concludes women who consumed 2 to 3 servings of whole grains a day on average being 30 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who rarely ate whole grains. Other studies corroborate these findings and claim that an additional 2 servings of whole grains a day decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes by 21 percent.
A good option is to start the day with whole grain foods such as oats, and include whole grain breads for lunch.
The best dairy products in a low-carbohydrate diet for diabetics are those with whey removed. Strained yogurt and cottage cheese rank among the best options.
Milk is rich in sugar, but the sugar breaks down slowly, and as such can find inclusion in a low-carb diet for diabetes. Unsweetened soy milk, and unsweetened almond milk constitute possible low sugar milk substitutes, if required.
A low-carb diet for diabetes that reduces dairy products to reduce carbohydrate intake should compensate for the loss of calcium from other sources. Broccoli, leafy greens, figs, salmons and soybeans make good alternate sources of calcium.
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Besides ensuring adequate servings of vegetables, protein foods, fruits, grains and dairy poducts, a low carb diet and diabetes diet planning entails some additional considerations.
- Most nuts and flax seeds are low in carbs, and dense in other nutrients, and as such make an effective substitute for starchier foods.
- Legumes such as beans, and barley such as lentils and peas are high in carbohydrates, but the sugar digests slowly or do not digest at all, making such food safe for a low carb diabetes diet.
- Morrison, Katharine. Low carbohydrate diets for diabetes control. The British Journal of General Practice. 2005 November 1; 55(520): 884.
- Bernstein, Richard, K. Why a Low-Carb Diet Is the Only Answer for Diabetics.
- Carbohydrate-counter.org. Carbohydrate Counter
- Harvard School of Public Health. Health Gains from Whole Grains. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/health-gains-from-whole-grains/index.html
- Harvard School of Public Health. Carbohydrates. Good Carbs Guide the Way. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/carbohydrates-full-story/index.html#good-carbs-not-no-carbs
Warning and Disclaimer
The information provided in this article does not constitute medical or dietary advise.
Specific individual circumstances might impede adopting some low carb diets for diabetes, and some studies indicate unsuitability of low carb diet for diabetes.
Please consult your physician before starting any new diet or acting on the information found in this article.