European Guidelines Not In Favor of Low Carbohydrate Diets for Diabetes

Conquer Diabetes and Prediabetes


A recent diabetes treatment guide from European doctors states “there is no justification for the recommendation of very low carbohydrate diets in diabetes mellitus.”

I disagree.

The 2013 guidelines are from the European Society of Cardiology and the European Association for the Study of Diabetes. I compiled the following articles in favor of carbohydrate restriction a couple years ago. You won’t find anything newer listed. Admittedly, all or nearly all of the patients involved had type 2 diabetes, not type 1.


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Accurso, A., et al. Dietary carbohydrate restriction in type 2 diabetes mellitus and metabolic syndrome: time for a critical appraisal. Nutrition & Metabolism, 9 (2008). PMID: 18397522. One of the watershed reports that summarize the major features and benefits, based on 68 scientific references.

Boden, G., et al. Effect of a low-carbohydrate diet on appetite, blood glucose levels, and insulin resistance in obese patients with type 2 diabetes. Annals of Internal Medicine, 142 (2005): 403-411. In these 10 obese diabetics, a low-carb diet spontaneously reduced calorie consumption from 3100 daily to 2200, accounting for the weight loss—1.65 kg (3.63 pounds) in 14 days. Blood sugar levels improved dramatically and insulin sensitivity improved by 75%.

Daly, M.E., et al. Short-term effects of severe dietary carbohydrate-restriction advice in Type 2 diabetes—a randomized controlled trial. Diabetes Medicine, 23 (2006): 15-20. Compared with a low-fat/reduced-calorie diet, weight loss was much better in the low-carb group over three months, and HDL ratio improved.

Davis, Nichola, et al. Comparative study of the effects of a 1-year dietary intervention of a low-carbohydrate diet versus a low-fat diet on weight and glycemic control in type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care, 32 (2009): 1,147-1,152. The Atkins diet was superior—for weight loss and glycemic control—when measured at three months, when compliance by both groups was still probably fairly good. After one year, the only major difference they found was lower HDL cholesterol in the low-carb eaters. 

Elhayany, A., et al. A low carbohydrate Mediterranean diet improves cardiovascular risk factors and diabetes control among overweight patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus: a 1-year prospective randomized intervention study. Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, 12 (2010): 204-209. In overweight type 2 diabetics, a low-carbohydrate Mediterranean diet improved HDL cholesterol levels and glucose control better than either the standard Mediterranean diet or American Diabetes Association diet, according to Israeli researchers.

Haimoto, Hajime, et al. Effects of a low-carbohydrate diet on glycemic control in outpatients with severe type 2 diabetes. Nutrition & Metabolism, 6:21 (2009). DOI: 10.1186/1743-7075-6-21. A low-carbohydrate diet is just as effective as insulin shots for people with severe type 2 diabetes, according to Japanese investigators. Five of the seven patients on sulfonylurea were able to stop the drug. 

Nielsen, Jörgen and Joensson, Eva.  Low-carbohydrate diet in type 2 diabetes: stable improvement of body weight and glycemic control during 44 months follow-up. Nutrition & Metabolism, 5 (2008). DOI: 10.1186/1743-7075-5-14. Obese people with type 2 diabetes following a 20% carbohydrate diet demonstrated sustained improvement in weight and blood glucose control, according to Swedish physicians. Proportions of carbohydrates, fat, and protein were 20%, 50%, and 30% respectively. Total daily carbs were 80-90 g. Hemoglobin A1c, a measure of diabetes control, fell from 8% to 6.8%. These doctors had previously demonstrated that a 20% carbohydrate diet was superior to a low-fat/55-60% carb diet in obese diabetes patients over six months.

Vernon, M., et al. Clinical experience of a carbohydrate-restricted diet: Effect on diabetes mellitus. Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders, 1 (2003): 233-238. This groundbreaking study demonstrated that diabetics could use an Atkins-style diet safely and effectively in a primary care setting.

Westman, Eric, et al. The effect of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-glycemic index diet on glycemic control in type 2 diabetes mellitus. Nutrition & Metabolism, 5 (2008). DOI: 10.1186/1743-7075-5-36. Duke University (U.S.) researchers demonstrated better improvement and reversal of type 2 diabetes with an Atkins-style diet, compared to a low-glycemic index reduced-calorie diet.

Yancy, William, et al. A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet to treat type 2 diabetes [in men]. Nutrition & Metabolism, 2:34 (2005). DOI: 10.1186/1743-7075-2-34. A low-carb ketogenic diet in patients with type 2 diabetes was so effective that diabetes medications were reduced or discontinued in most patients. The authors recommend that similar dieters be under close medical supervision or capable of adjusting their own medication, because the diet lowers blood sugar  dramatically.

Yancy, W., et al. A pilot trial of a low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet in patients with type 2 diabetes.  Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders, 1 (2003): 239-244. This pioneering study used an Atkins Induction-style diet with less than 20 grams of carbohydrate daily.

So there!

Steve Parker, M.D.

h/t to Reijo Laatikainen for tweeting the European article.


Filed under Carbohydrate, Glycemic Index and Load

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