New Study: A Low-Carb Diet and Intermittent Fasting Beneficial for Diabetics!

A Mediterranean breakfast without carbohydrates

A Mediterranean breakfast without carbohydrates

A new exciting Swedish study provides us with strong clues on how a person with diabetes should eat (and how to eat to maximize fat burning). It’s the first study to examine in detail how various blood markers change throughout the day depending on what a diabetic person eats.

The study examined the effects of three different diets in 19 subjects with diabetes type 2. They consumed breakfast and lunch under supervision in a diabetes ward. The caloric intake in the three diets examined was the same, but the diets differed in the following manner:

  1. A conventional low-fat diet (45-56% carbs)
  2. A Mediterranean diet with coffee only for breakfast (= similar to 16:8 intermittent fasting) and a big lunch (32-35% carbs)
  3. A moderate low-carbohydrate diet (16-24% carbs)

All participants tested all three diets, one diet each day in randomized order.

Results

The effects on blood sugar levels throughout the day are shown in this chart:

Nyström-Sugar-650x582

To convert glucose values to mg/dl multiply by 18 (e.g. 8 mmol/L = 144 mg/dl).

The red line represents the low-fat diet that most diabetics are still advised to follow. This diet produced the WORST blood sugar levels throughout the day, which was fully expected (the low-fat diet contains more carbohydrates that raise blood sugar). Because too high a blood sugar level is the main problem in diabetes you could stop right there and award the low-fat diet the label “worst in test”.

The green line shows a Mediterranean diet higher in fat. The participants skipped breakfast and had a big lunch instead (an equal number of calories in breakfast+lunch as other participants). As we can see this led to excellent blood sugar levels in the morning. After the big lunch, blood sugar levels were similar to those of the small low-fat lunch!

Please note that in several Mediterranean countries, such as Italy, Greece and Portugal, it’s quite common to skip breakfast.

The blue line represents a moderate low-carbohydrate diet. It only produced minor peaks after breakfast and lunch. In total it produced the lowest average blood sugar levels throughout the day.

Insulin

Insulin levels were also measured throughout the day. Here’s the result:

Nyström-Insulin-650x577

The color codings are the same as above: Red = low-fat, green = fasting breakfast and blue = low-carb.

Skipping breakfast will, as expected, not elevate insulin levels, while a big lunch will produce a substantial peak.

The low-fat diet contained mostly carbohydrates and, as expected, caused the highest average elevations of insulin levels throughout the day. Bad news here too for diabetics with a decreased insulin sensitivity and with difficulty producing enough insulin. The low-fat diet that most diabetics are recommended to follow is worst in test here too.

Lowest Insulin Levels, Best Fat-Burning Rates

The low-carbohydrate diet clearly produces the lowest average insulin levels throughout the day, despite what certain insulin-deniers usually claim.

This is just a repeat of many previous studies. A low-carbohydrate diet produces much lower levels of the fat-storing hormone insulin. Period. This represents an advantage to all that want to burn more fat and store less body fat.

Previously on insulin

Conclusion

This is an exciting study, I think. As expected, a moderate low-carb diet (including more fat) produces great results. But also skipping breakfast and eating a bigger lunch, as is common in several Mediterranean countries, seems to be beneficial.

What happens if you combine these two advantages? If you eat a more high-fat low-carb diet AND skip breakfast? This could create more positive effects. Perhaps 1+1=3? Furthermore, the positive effect would likely be greater on a stricter low-carb diet than the one used in the study. For example a strict LCHF diet.

Finally: Is one of the reasons that the Mediterranean diet has been associated with good health just that people quite often just skip breakfast? Should intermittent fasting, like 16:8, be viewed as part of a healthful Mediterranean diet?

The Study

Read the study online for free: PLOS ONE: A Randomized Cross-Over Trial of the Postprandial Effects of Three Different Diets in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes

I had en e-mail exchange with one of the authors, Professor Nyström, about the study. He contributed with an interesting observation:

Despite almost twice as much insulin being produced, the increase in glucose levels was twice as big on the low-fat diet as compared to the high-fat diet.

The low-fat diet forced the body to produce twice as much insulin as compared to the low-carb diet. And the increase in blood sugar levels was still dramatically bigger. This shows how disastrously bad a carbohydrate rich low-fat diet is for diabetics.

More

Four Simple Steps to a Healthier and Leaner Life

Yes, a Low-Carb Diet Greatly Lowers Your Insulin

LCHF Wins Another Diabetes Study

Diabetes – How to Normalize Your Blood Sugar

60 comments

Top comment

  1. Djak
    I am a type 2 diabetic who has been eating low carb for the past 14 months. A few high carb meals on special occasions here and there, but primarily low carb all the way. I frequently skip breakfast simply because I'm not hungry in the morning. I wake up and drink coffee, somewhat slowly, and it doesn't even occur to me to find food until a few hours later. I usually end up making a spinach and cheese omelet for lunch. This was not done by design, but simply because I didn't feel hungry until lunch time. In the past 14 months, I've brought my HbA1c from an all time high of 14, down to a normal range 5.9, solely by eating a low carb - high fat diet. I've stopped taking all of my previous medications (metformin, lisinopril, and zocor) and now only take a vitamin supplement. My blood sugars and cholesterol are under control, my blood pressure is down, and even though my weight stays stubbornly high, I feel better than I have in years. I started eating this way after stumbling onto Dr. Eenfeldt's website here, and I can't tell you how grateful I am!
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  1. August
    I am a diabetic. I started intermittent Fasting on Dec 28/14. I feel very very good and in fact I have stopped taking my meds. I stopped taking them because the BGL in the mid afternoon drops to under 5, sometimes to 3.5ish without meds. So with Meds, I thought it would get dangerously low and so I stopped taking them.

    I fast from 2pm to 10 am. Approx 20 hrs. I workout fasted. I take 7g BCAA pre/post workout (1 serving). I drink approx 3 - 4 liters water daily. I don't restrict food although I do make a conscious effort to eat low carb and clean foods.

    As I mentioned, I feel great! HOWEVER ... I don't understand why my fasting BGL is super high! Before I started IF, my fasting BGL was around 14 mmol/L. During IF it is 11 - 12 mmol/L. Still very high! My doctor wants it down to 7 or under.

    Since I stop eating at 2pm in the afternoon and test my BGL at 6 - 7 am next day, I would expect BGL to be at least below 9 but that is not the case.

    I workout 30 minutes per day (or more). I have been logging in T25 with Shaun T in the afternoon. In the morning, I try to do whatever to wake me up. sometimes a 4 minute tabata jump rope workout, sometimes just straight 20 cardio. So yah, there are days I have been logging 1 hr workout per day.

    Can someone share thoughts if they have any, on why my fasting BGL would be high despite being disciplined? Am I working out too hard?

    I am 4'11". Female. 138 LBS (yes, have to loose at least 10# or more) and I eat, in the 4 hour period, approx 1000 - 1200 calories. Do I need to up my calories???

    No, I have not shared the IF regiment with my doctor. As I said, I feel great! And before I started IF, I had my doctor take all sorts of tests including heart ultra sound, cholesterol, triglycerides, thyroid, blood pressure, blood glucose, heart stress test (on the treadmill) etc. All but the BGL came out normal. Hence, IF to bring the BGL down.

    I tried Keto diet to bring my BGL down but failed because I found I was eating and eating and eating and eating.....

    I started 16/8 IF and found I kept eating and eating and eating and eating..... Then on Jan 2nd I switched to 20/4 IF and it seems to be working great for me.

    Any suggestions/strategy to help my fasting BGL down to 7 would be greatly appreciated. Maybe I just need to give my body time to adjust?

    Thanks!

  2. Lani Lee
    I don't skip breakfast and I don't like coffee. Here's what I do. -- I heat up water to the boiling point. While it is boiling I break and stir a raw egg into my mug, and a bit of Knorr's powdered chicken stock. I pour the boiling water over the egg/stock mixture and it cooks the egg instantly -- like egg drop soup. I then add a pat of butter. This is very low carb -- I think the only carb is in the 1/2 teaspoon of chicken stock. Sometimes I add a sprig of chopped green onion, and about 6 or seven frozen peas. Also, a slice of ham or roast beef can be chopped and added to the mug of soup. All this cools it down and makes a perfect breakfast on the run. Oh, and you can add pepper, too, if you like.

    I think it's a great snack, too. In the afternoon, I might boil up another cup. For a complete meal you can use two eggs in a bowl, add more chopped ham, turkey, chicken or beef. Hey, cooked bacon bits are great, too. Instead of the peas, shred a 1/2 cup of romaine lettuce in the bowl -- it replaces the noodles.

    I am 74 years old, diabetic II diagnosed 2 years ago. I have lost 65 pounds on a LCHF regimen and have 40 more to go. My sugar levels average 102 over a 7 day period. FAT IS NOT THE ENEMY!

  3. gail lee
    Are you doing the morning exercise first before you test? That can spike it.
  4. Elizabeth
    New to this LCHF diet just what is the 18:8 intermediate fasting see the term used but how and do you do.
  5. Zepp
    You eat lunch att your jobb and then supper 8 hour later att home.. or any other combination.

    The rest is fasting and sleeping.

    It comes naturaly whit LCHF if one eat enough every time you eat.

    And fat have a lot of calories, one get full and satisfyed for a long time.

    But I think its 16:8?

    Others eat breakfast and then dinner 8 hour later, often att home.

  6. Chris

    Skipping breakfast? Depends what you have for breakfast. I have a two egg cheese omelette and a coffee made with double cream... minimal carbs there and has no effect on my blood sugars yet leaves me feeling full. I'd hate to have to try and make it through to lunch on just a coffee in the morning.

    Certainly depends on what you eat the night before...our bodies don't work in a vacuum, especially if we're eating 2-3 meals a day. I had a good-sized steak with some zucchini and onions last night, I was hiccuping by the end of the meal (which, for me, is a sure sign I've ate very well indeed!). Woke up this morning...no appetite for my usual eggs, bacon, or sausage fare. If you're following a very low-carb diet (<50 carbs per day) and eating well the night before, it's very likely your body can energize itself the next morning off of what you had yesterday, unless you're also doing intense exercise after said evening meal. Your body wasn't doing a whole lot while you're asleep, and you certainly need significantly less energy while you're asleep.

    Just from a mind-experiment perspective, it might not be a bad idea to give your body time to process what it still has for extra energy before you add further dietary calories. Also, you shouldn't just be drinking coffee or tea in the morning if you choose to fast instead of eat breakfast: drink plenty of water as well. Your body needs that far more than food.

  7. Aretienné
    Hi, Djak. It's been a while since you left your comment, but I hope you're still getting notifications that others are replying to you. Congratulations on your successful management of your diabetes. That's phenomenal! Do you mind sharing why you think your weight "stays stubbornly high?" I've been trying to combine low-carb with IF for the past year and (a) don't find myself any better able to deal with hunger at night or just before my 16-hrs are up, and (b) despite keeping total carbs under 40-50g/day (I can't go lower as I'm vegetarian and eat fibrous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, celery...), I am not losing weight. I go to the gym periodically.

    Anyway, just wondered what your own insight into your weight stability is, given how well you've done on the diet end--which I'm being told by all the "experts" is the more important weight-loss component.

    Congratulations, again. Hope you're continuing to do so well.

  8. Elly
    Hi, I am a 62 yr. female, with 120 pounds to lose to get to my recommended weight. I have been morbidly obese for most of my life. Diagnosed with type 2 diabetes 3 yr ago and taking 5 x 500 mg metformin a day and my food intake still keeping my blood sugars up at around 20 to 23. I started the LCHF eating plan about 2 weeks ago and also intermittent fasting about 8 days ago and I am only taking 2 x 500mg metformin a day and my blood sugars are averaging 7 already, I have not weighed myself so do not know if I have lost anything however I am stunned by the other benefits.....no more brain fog!!! So much energy it is hard to believe!!! I am really hoping that I will be able to drop the excess weight sooner rather than later!! Does anyone have a success story for me about losing the weight and the time frame for it? I am keeping below 20 g of carbs a day. Thanks
  9. Grace
    Everyone if different, what works for some people will not for others. Sure the data is there but does it fit into your lifestyle. We grew up never eating breakfast it we had tea with milk that was it, sure if you wanted a biscuit have one, but we skipped it most all of the time.I was fine until lunch. So, my parents parents did the same thing and so on... My Italian friends they have cafe Latte which is coffee and milk in Italy they have that for breakfast,.the best coffee in the world is in Italy. I must say. Italians are slim for good reason. Anyhow later in life I noticed my weight went up ten pounds YIKES i did the low carb thing I had ten pounds to lose For me it was too hard to do I'm a vegetarian . I found this amazing longevity doctor. she got me on this amazing powder drink she created that taste absolutely amazing , Non- GMO organic powder drink with all the vitamins, minerals you need for the entire body, and along with a great bone and skin supplement all of this tossed in blender with banana or berry smoothie .I don't eat anything after 4:00 and I do intermittent fasting weekly I feel so great my yoga classes is so much better now and the ten pounds are gone, never to return. I feel so good I have so much more energy I can can finally adopt a puppy and so we can have fun and run together
  10. Lisa
    Yes! :)
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