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  • Researchers say a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet helped study participants with type 2 diabetes lose weight and improve their blood glucose levels.
  • However, they noted the participants had difficulty maintaining this dietary plan at a 3-month follow-up.
  • Experts say it’s important to assess your current eating habits before starting any diet.
  • They also advise incorporating physical activity into your overall daily plans.

People with type 2 diabetes can lose more weight if they eat a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet.

That’s the conclusion of a new study published today in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

The study, led by researchers at the University of Southern Denmark, randomly assigned low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diets and high-carb, low-fat (HCLF) diets to 165 people with type 2 diabetes for 6 months.

The researchers designed the study as follows:

  • The amount of calories participants could eat was not restricted, although participants were advised to eat as many calories as they expend.
  • Their daily calories would be divided into three nutrient groups.
  • The LCHF diet permits 20% of daily calories from carbohydrates, 50% to 60% from fat sources, and 25% to 30% from protein.
  • The HCLF diet allows roughly 50% to 60% of daily calories in carbohydrates and sharing the rest between fats and proteins.

After 6 months, researchers said participants showed greater weight loss and better blood glucose control on the LCHF diet than on the HCLF diet.

On average, people on the LCHF diet reduced hemoglobin A1c by 0.59 percent more and also lost 3.8 kg more weight compared to those in the HCLF group.

Researchers say that, compared to the HCLF diet, people eating LCHF also experienced higher improvements in their “good” cholesterol levels and triglycerides as well as greater reductions in waist circumference and body fat percentage. However, they also had increases in “bad” cholesterol levels compared to individuals on the HCLF diet.

Notably, dietary habits and benefits were not maintained by the 3-month follow-up. The researchers also found no difference in the amount of liver fat or inflammation between the two groups.

The study authors suggest that longer-term dietary interventions may be needed for sustained success.

One expert interviewed by Healthline said there needs to be a balance of carbohydrates in diets.

“Carbohydrates are important,” says Amy Bragagnini, MS, RD, CSO, an oncology nutrition specialist at Trinity Health Lacks Cancer Center in Michigan and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Carbohydrates are the preferred source of energy for our brain and our bodies.”

She notes that the problem is that people are eating too many carbohydrates, especially highly-processed simple carbohydrates such as those found in breads and sweets.

“Consuming too many highly processed or simple carbohydrates can lead to increased risk of heart disease, unwanted weight gain, and diabetes,” Bragagnini said.

Still, Bragagnini says she doesn’t want clients to become “scared” of carbohydrates.

Rather, she recommends choosing complex carbohydrates (whole grain bread, brown rice, beans) and then becoming more familiar with portion sizes.

Julie Cunningham, a registered dietitian and author of 30 Days to Tame Type 2 Diabetes, says her biggest concern about using a low-carb high-fat diet for weight loss and/or blood sugar control is whether a client is going to be able to sustain this pattern of eating over the long-term.

“As the authors pointed out, the people in the study were not able to maintain their dietary changes or improvements to their health 3 months after the study finished,” she said.

“I don’t want my patients to change their diets temporarily and then potentially experience worsening blood sugars, weight gain, and accompanying depression when they stop following a low-carb, high-fat diet,” Cunningham told Healthline.

And while a high-fat diet may sound appealing at first, Cunningham mentions that it does get boring, especially when carbohydrates are restricted. Imagine, for example, your baked potato with sour cream, cheese, and bacon bits… but no potato.

Bragagnini and Cunningham offered a number of tips for finding success with a diet.

Assess your current diet and barriers to success

One of the biggest barriers to following a balanced diet is having the knowledge and preparation to do so, says Braganini.

Knowing what your starting point is can help you understand where to make changes.

She says one of the most important things people can do is figure out exactly what they are really eating on a day-to-day basis.

Speaking with a registered dietician is a great place to start.

Bragagnini explains working with a dietician can help you gain the knowledge needed to begin to implement the small changes in order to make them sustainable over time.

Add some physical activity

Consistent physical activity is another way to help optimize metabolism and help reduce inflammation, explains Bragagnini.

“I have a lot of people tell me that they are too busy to join a gym, or that cost is a big factor. I urge them to find brief pockets of time during the day to simply move,” she said.

You can try:

  • Going for a walk during lunchtime (or any other break in the day)
  • Doing weight resistance exercises during commercials or ads (push-ups, squats, lunges)
  • Building set periods of time every day to move and try to make this a habit that lasts

Together, these changes can help increase lean body mass, decrease anxiety, and improve one’s metabolism, which, in addition to a balanced diet, can lead to weight loss,” says Bragagnini.

Remember what is in your control

“We have direct control over the foods we choose to eat and the physical activities we choose to do,” says Cunningham, “but we don’t have direct control over the number on the scale.”

This means two people can eat the exact same diet and exercise the exact same amount but end up at different weights.

That, Cunningham explains, is OK.

“Measure success by whether you choose to eat well and give your body the activity it needs, and don’t worry about the number on the scale,” she said.