Diets low in carbohydrate have been used by diabetes patients for many years as an effective way of regulating and managing the disease – yet they have not received much recognition or public health endorsement.
Part of the reason for this could be that the Low Carb diet is in stark contrast to previous dietary recommendations – which are largely still based around the Low Fat diet promoted in the 1980’s. Despite the faulty science behind the low fat diet– which promotes starchy carbohydrates as the basis for a healthy balanced diet – a surprisingly large number of health bodies still promote a food pyramid based on this 30 years on.
The Low Fat dietary advice – which gained widespread interest and adoption in the 1980’s following the US Department of Health’s recommendations – has coincided with a period in which the average Body Mass Index (BMI) has risen consistently. We have now reached a point in which it is unusual for an adult in the US (and much of western Europe) to be a ‘normal’ weight in middle age.
Why are low carb diets discredited?
One possible reason is that there is a lack of a consistent definition for “low carbohydrate diets” and so it is therefore consistently associated with more extreme diets such as ‘the Atkins diet’ – a diet that often comes to mind and is associated with an excess of protein and animal fats – at the expense of vegetables and nuts. There is a huge amount of advice out there discrediting the low carb diet –based on studies of the most extreme examples. Health organisations have dismissed such extreme diets – but also have avoided any support for moderate balance low carb diets followed around the world by diabetes patients with successful results.
What does the science say about low carbohydrate diets?
Two studies into low carb diets have shown clear benefits over the low fat diet.
– A study conducted in 2008 that compared low carb and Mediterranean diets with a low fat diet found both to outperform the low fat diet in weight reduction and also in reducing LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides.
Meanwhile an 8 year study published in April 2014, which examined the effects of low carb diets on patients with diabetes found that a low carb ‘Mediterranean based diet’ (low carb Mediterranean diet was more successful) to be far more effective that a low fat diet containing the equivalent calories. Across these studies the low carbohydrate diets were found to be far more effective in terms of reducing blood sugar levels associated with the risk of developing diabetes-related complications.
In addition there is further evidence is also mounting in support of saturated fat in dairy products and some meats – where current advice still tends to promote the consumption of only low fat dairy. A 14 year Swedish study published in 2014, showed that full fat dairy was associated with significantly reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. The study at Lund University Diabetes Center in Sweden found that the consumption of high-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese was linked to a reduction in the risk of type 2 diabetes by as much as a fifth.
When will public health policy catch up?
In 2013 the American Diabetes Association has started to acknowledge the benefits of the low fat and Mediterranean dietsin treating and managing type 2 diabetes – as well as helping with weight loss.
Meanwhile many health bodies around the world still regard saturated fat as something to avoid and do not recognize the difference between saturated fats in dairy, meat and processed foods.
Despite a growing number of studies questioning health benefits of low fat diets these remain the basis for much public health advice.
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