Pros and cons of low carb, high protein with type 1

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

A low carb, high protein diet restricts carbohydrates while increasing protein through increased red and white meat, seafood and eggs.

Its aim is to achieve your daily nutrient, health management and/or weight loss goals.

What do the diets entail?

These types of diets focus on limiting refined carb rich foods and drinks like chips, biscuits, cakes, lollies, ice cream, and sugar-sweetened drinks.

However,  low carb, high protein diets can also restrict nutritious carb-rich foods from the five core food groups such as:

  1. Wholegrains and wholegrain products: breads, cereals, pasta
  2. Dairy products: milk, yoghurt, cheese
  3. Carb-rich vegetables: legumes, corn, potatoes
  4. Fruit

These foods are full of beneficial nutrients such as fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other helpful plant chemicals.

There is not one low carb, high protein diet or standardised approach but instead many variations.

What is considered low carb?

Generally, a low carb diet refers to less than 26% total energy from carbohydrates per day. A moderate carb diet is between 26-45%.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend between 45-65%, which is considered a moderate to higher carbohydrate diet.

A low carb diet would contain less than 130g carbs per day for someone following a diet of 8,400kJ (2000 calories).

A moderate diet would contain 130-225g carbohydrates per day.  In terms of protein, a higher protein diet can range from around 1-1.5g per kg of total body weight.

There are various low carb diets in the media such as Ketogenic (Keto), Atkins, Paleo and Optifast, although each of them follow slightly different rules.

Some diets focus on quality, nutrient-rich carbohydrate food choices, while others focus purely on the amount of carbohydrates eaten.

Pros

A common theme of low carb diets is an initial success in weight loss and improved post prandial (after eating) blood glucose levels.

Seeing these results in the first few weeks can boost confidence levels and lead to increased adherence with the diet.

Initial weight loss and improvements in blood glucose levels may result from various reasons.

Most likely, it is due to the reduced intake of food containing processed carbohydrates when following a low carb diet.

This is usually followed by a focus on various ‘no or low carb’ vegetables, healthier fats (eg avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds) and increased animal-based protein.

Of course, with only 6-8% of Australians reaching their recommended vegetable intake, a focus on eating more vegetables is positive.

However,  you don’t necessarily need to follow a low carb, high protein diet in order to achieve this.

Research has shown low carb, high protein diets are no more effective than a healthy, balanced eating pattern at achieving improved blood glucose levels and body weight goals, especially in the long term.

Cons

Despite early desired outcomes to body weight and blood glucose levels, evidence suggests that in the long run results are similar to that of a healthy balanced diet.

Often when people stop losing weight, they start to lose confidence and can find it hard to stick to a diet.

When this is paired with the restrictions of carb-rich foods, impacts such as gut problems or lacking key nutrients, many people stop the diet altogether.

Choosing a low carb, high protein diet can carry benefits such as increasing your vegetable intake but it can also be lacking in certain areas.

Foods that may be restricted include wholegrains, vegetables, legumes, dairy and fruit, which provide a range of health-promoting nutrients.

These nutrients include fibre, vitamin C, folate, thiamine, magnesium and potassium.

Restriction of these food groups, without supplementation and monitoring, can result in fatigue, hair loss and gut problems.

Some low carb, high protein diets may not distinguish between different types of fats.  This might mean you end up adding in foods, in particular red and white meat, which contain saturated fat.

Eating a lot of saturated fat may heighten your risk of blood vessel damage and heart disease.  It may also increase the possibility of insulin resistance in some people.

What is the latest research saying?

Overall, there is no strong evidence that a low carb, high protein diet will provide benefits to your health compared to alternative diets.

There also isn’t enough research to determine how safe this diet is in the long term.

As with health and nutrition, there really isn’t any ‘one size fits all’ approach.  While some people may find a low carb, high protein diet useful in managing their diabetes, there are alternative diets that can provide similar benefits.

With studies showing that 95-98% of dieters return to their pre-diet results over a longer period of time, finding an eating pattern that suits your needs and lifestyle is key.

People who wish to follow a low carb diet should do so in consultation with their diabetes health care team, including their Accredited Practising Dietitian.

Due to the increased risk of hypoglycaemia, speaking with your doctor about any adjustments to your diabetes medication is very important. Particularly if you require insulin to manage your diabetes.

A low carb diet is not recommended for children, pregnant or breastfeeding women. It is also not recommended for the elderly, unwell or people with certain medical conditions or histories.

For more information, talk to your healthcare team or call us on 1300 342 238 to talk to one of our expert health professionals.

You can also view the Diabetes Australia low carb position statement here.

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