A low carbohydrate diet could help diabetes patients achieve better weight loss and glucose control in the short term, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Southern Denmark.

The changes, however, were not sustained three months after the intervention, suggesting a need for long-term dietary changes to maintain meaningful health benefits. 

More than 480 million people worldwide are affected by Type 2 diabetes, and more than half of diabetes patients have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which can progress to cirrhosis and impair liver function. 

Prior studies suggest that weight loss improves both diabetes control and NAFLD, and the restriction of carbohydrate intake improves the management of blood sugar levels.

One study, in particular, showed that a diet rich in whole grains, fiber, fish and n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) has the potential to reduce all premature death risk factors in adults with Type 2 diabetes.

Comparative analysis

Researchers from the University of Southern Denmark randomly assigned 165 persons with Type 2 diabetes to either a low-carb high-fat (LCHF) diet or a high-carb low-fat (HCLF) diet for six months. The mean age was 56 and 58% of the participants were women. 

Participants in both groups were asked to consume the same number of calories equal to their energy output. For example, participants on the low-carb diet ate no more than 20% of their calories from carbohydrates but could have 50-60% of their calories from fat and 20-30% from protein. 

Patients on the low-fat diet were asked to eat about half of their calories in carbohydrates, and the rest evenly split between fats and proteins. 

The study, published in Annals of Internal Medicine, found that an LCHF unrestricted diet helped patients achieve better weight loss and glucose control than an HCLF diet

Results from the blood work

Glycemic control, serum lipid levels, metabolic markers and liver biopsies were measured to assess NAFLD.

The authors found that participants on the low-carb diet reduced hemoglobin A1c by 0.59% more than the low-fat diet and lost 3.8 kg more weight than those in the low-fat group. 

The low-carb dieters also lost more body fat and reduced their waist circumference. Both groups had higher high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and lower triglycerides after six months. The changes were not sustained at the nine-month follow-up.

The liver was not affected by the high-fat intake in the low-carb group. The researchers found no difference in the amount of liver fat or inflammation between the two groups.

The primary funding source of the study is the Novo Nordisk Foundation.

By Inga de Jong

Source: NutritionInsight

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