Best Low Carb Diet for Diabetes: Animal or Plant Protein

Best Low Carb Diet for Diabetes: Animal or Plant Protein

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The source of protein in your diet can impact your risk of diabetes. Design by MNT; Photography by Giulia Fiori Photography/Getty Images & LindasPhotography/Getty Images
  • More than 95% of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes, which often results from excess body mass and inactivity.
  • Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body no longer responds to insulin and usually develops after the age of 45, although it is increasingly common in younger people.
  • The condition is manageable, but if neglected, it can cause serious health problems and even be fatal.
  • A new study has found that by eating a plant-based, low-carb diet, a person could reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

According the CDCmore than 37 million adults in the United States have diabetes, and of those, about 95% have type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes (T2DM) develops when a person’s body stops to respond to insulin (the hormone that regulates blood sugar) produced by the cells of the pancreas.

In contrast, people with type 1 diabetes, which is thought to be caused by an autoimmune reaction, do not produce insulin. They should test their blood sugar regularly and use insulin to keep it within a healthy range.

A recent study suggested that a low carbohydrate diet may reduce the risk of T2DM. However, this study was unable to differentiate whether this finding was due entirely to carbohydrate reduction or simply calorie reduction.

Dr Eamon Laird, a visiting scientist at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland, who was not involved in the study, said Medical News Today“It’s a very complex subject. We already know that eating whole grains and plant-based foods is good for reducing the risk of diabetes.

Now, a studywhich has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, suggested that it is not the low carbohydrate diet but the type of non-carbohydrate foods a person eats that affects the risk of developing T2D .

T2DM usually develops slowly and may have few symptoms at first, so it may go unnoticed for some time. A person’s risk of developing T2DM is increased by factors such as:

  • be over 45 years old
  • having a family history of the condition
  • do little or no exercise
  • being obese or overweight, especially having excess weight around your stomach
  • low levels of HDL, or “good” cholesterol
  • high levels of triglyceride fats.

People can reduce their risk of developing T2D by maintaining a healthy weight, improving their diet, and being active.

The The CDC recommends reduce intake of processed foods, trans fats, and alcoholic and sugary beverages, opting instead for non-starchy vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, whole grains, water, and unsweetened beverages to help reduce risks.

The prospective cohort study was conducted on 203,541 men and women in the United States for over 30 years. All participants were free of T2D, cardiovascular disease and cancers at the start of the study.

Every four years, participants undertook dietary assessments using a validated food frequency questionnaire. The researchers created scores based on the percentage of total energy each person gets from their daily intake of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. They then divided the participants into five groups.

The low-carb group got about 40% of their total calories from carbs.

The researchers then assessed the quality of the diets, ranking 18 nutrient groups, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, sweets and desserts, animal fats, dairy products and meat.

“The advantages of the study are the large numbers and the long timescale, but the exact amount of carbs they ate each day was not measured, which could lead to inaccuracies.”
— Dr. Eamon Laird

Overall, a low carbohydrate diet did not reduce the risk of T2D. However, when dietary protein sources were considered separately, the researchers found considerable differences in the risk of T2DM.

Those who included mostly plant protein in their diet had a 6% reduced risk of T2D over the 30 years.

For people who limited their intake of refined carbohydrates, the risk of T2DM was even lower, at 15% less than those who followed a normal diet.

In contrast, those on a low-carb diet who ate mostly animal protein had a 35% higher risk of T2D, which rose to 39% in those who also ate a low-whole grain diet.

Dr. Laird pointed to the lack of specificity regarding the sources of protein consumed.

“From the short summary, there is no information on the types of protein from animal foods (heavily processed usually means more fat and sugar compared to organic/unprocessed foods, which contain less fat and sugars). We also don’t know what other lifestyle factors were taken into account?” he said.

Meanwhile, the study’s lead author, Yeli Wang, noted that their observations were for a predominantly white cohort. Studies have shown that the risk of T2DM is higher in certain other ethnic groups, especially African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans. In the United States, T2D is almost twice as common among African Americans and non-Hispanic whites.

“We wonder if our results could be generalized to other ethnic groups. We need to look at that,” Dr. Wang said.

What is known is that maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet with few processed foods helps reduce your risk of developing T2DM.

The American Heart Association recommends including a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and healthy sources of protein, such as fish and seafood, legumes and nuts, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, and lean meats. It encourages choosing minimally processed foods over ultra-processed foods and limiting sugar, salt, and alcohol.

Switching to plant-based proteins, such as nuts, lentils, beans and soybeans, instead of animal proteins, may reduce this risk even further.

“Some studies have associated more plant-based diets with healthier lifestyles (like less tobacco, less alcohol, more physical activity, more supplement use), which has an impact [the] risk of diabetes. So we need to see more information before drawing any conclusions. “
— Dr. Eamon Laird

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