Before you make any changes to your diet please speak to your healthcare team particularly if you are taking medication for your diabetes. 

A low carbohydrate diet is defined as eating less than 130g of carbohydrate per day. Carbohydrate breaks down to glucose in the body, so it is the nutrient that has the biggest impact on your blood glucose levels. Lowering blood glucose levels is clearly a benefit for people with diabetes or those at risk of developing it.

A low carbohydrate diet has helped many people with type 2 diabetes put it into remission and it can also help people that are overweight and at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, lose weight and improve health markers.

The role of carbohydrate in our diet

Carbohydrate provides us with energy as it is broken down in the body to glucose where it is then released into the bloodstream. Insulin is the hormone produced by the pancreas that lowers our blood glucose levels by allowing the glucose to enter the cells so it can be used as fuel by our body for energy.

Healthy sources of carbohydrates, such as higher fibre starchy foods, vegetables, fruit and legumes, are also an important source of nutrients, such as calcium, iron and B vitamins which are all needed to keep us healthy.

Types of carbohydrate

Carbohydrates are found in two main forms: starch and sugar.

A table showing the main forms of carbohydrates; sugar and starch. Examples of starchy carbohydrates are bread, potatoes, rice and pulses. Examples of sugary carbohydrates are fruit sugar, table sugar, honey, milk sugar, biscuits and fruit juice.                                      

Starchy carbohydrates are foods such as potatoes, bread, rice, pasta, couscous, breakfast cereals, oats and other grains like rye and barley. When it comes to starchy carbohydrates, it is best to try to choose ones that contain more whole grain such as brown rice and wholegrain bread and pasta. This is because they still contain their natural fibre which is an important part of a healthy diet.

Sugary carbohydrates can be found in foods such as honey, syrup, fruit juice, sweets, cakes and biscuits.

What can I eat?

The first step is to familiarise yourself with what foods do and don’t contain carbs, as some foods have none (e.g. meat and fish), some have a small number of carbs (e.g. most vegetables), and others have high amounts (e.g. bread, pasta, rice and potatoes). A low carb diet typically involves:

                   

Fruit & Vegetables: Provide our body with an important source of vitamins, minerals and fibre. Go for vegetables that are grown above the ground as they contain less carbohydrate. Vegetables are extremely versatile on a low carb diet and you can replace starchy foods such as pasta with butternut squash noodles or courgetti and white rice for cauliflower ‘rice’ and broccoli ‘couscous’.

Meat & fish: Protein is an important nutrient for growth and repair of tissues inside the body. Increasing your intake of protein whilst reducing your intake of carbohydrates can help you feel fuller for longer whilst reducing your overall calorie intake. It’s still advised to go for lean proteins such as chicken, turkey and fish and to limit your intake of processed and red meat.

Nuts & seeds: Our body gets a lot of vitamins and minerals from nuts and seeds. They are also a healthy source of fat which is important for heart and brain health.

Dairy & eggs: Dairy is an important source of calcium which is essential for bone health. Try to stick to lower fat varieties, such as reduced-fat cheese or skimmed milk, and make sure you check food labels for sugar content as things like low fat yoghurts can actually be high in sugar.

What foods should I avoid?

If you want to follow a low carb diet, then you should avoid or reduce foods such as:

Sugar: This includes simple sugars such as honey, table sugar and any foods containing added sugar such as sweets, chocolates, ice cream, biscuits; Bread, grains and pasta: All carbs will break down to glucose in the body so avoid foods made from wheat, rice and barley including bread, pasta and cereal; Processed foods: Foods that such as pies, crisps, hot dogs, sausages, fast foods are generally high in saturated fat, sugar and salt and offer no nutritive value; Starchy vegetables: These are defined as those that grow under the ground such as sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, beetroot and potatoes.                                                

Food Labelling

Being able to read and understand food labels is a really important part of any type of diet. When following a low carbohydrate diet, you will be looking at the nutrition label on the back of food packaging for the carbohydrate content, as only the amount of sugar will be displayed on the front as part of the traffic light food label.

Food labels tend to give you the values per 100g and per serving or weight of food, so make sure you are looking at the correct value for how much you are eating when working out the carbohydrate content. You will see a value for the carbohydrate content and then underneath, how much of the total carb content is sugar.

The image below shows you what is considered as high and low values of sugar:

Sugars; High (in red) = more than 22.5g per 100g; Low (in green) = 5g of total sugars or less per 100g      

To make food shopping easier, it’s worth downloading Public Health England’s Change4Life Food Scanner app that is free to download on both the App Store and Google Play. The app allows you to scan barcodes of packaged food and drinks to tell you how much sugar, saturated fat, salt and calories are in foods to help you make better food choices.

Tips to follow a low carb diet

We’ve included some tips below on how you can reduce your carb intake when cooking at home or when you eat out:

At home:

  • Swap rice for cauliflower or broccoli couscous
  • Instead of spaghetti, use spiralised veg such as courgetti or butternut squash noodles
  • Replace tortilla wraps or taco shells with lettuce leaves
  • Replace pasta sheets in lasagne with sliced aubergine
  • Use portobello mushrooms as the bun when you are having a burger
  • If you are used to having potatoes with your meals, replace them with more vegetables or try things such as celeriac mash or butternut squash wedges
  • Instead of sugar, switch to sweeteners such as Stevia, Erythritol or Xylitol – these can be used to replace sugar in baking as well as everyday use
  • Replace wheat flours to low carb ones made from nuts such as almond flour or coconut flour. Both of which work well in recipes for muffins, pancakes, or baked goods
  • Milk from cows is quite high in carbs due to the sugar lactose so try coconut or almond milk

Preparation is key to any diet so it’s a good idea to plan out your meals and snacks for the week. If you’ve got all of the ingredients you need and low carb snacks to hand then you’ll find sticking to it a lot easier.

Eating out:

  • If you’re having a burger, ditch the bun
  • Instead of chips or potatoes on the side, ask for extra veg or a side salad
  • Wine and lagers can contain a lot of carbohydrates so it’s best to stick to clear spirits with diet mixers
  • Sauces can contain a lot of hidden sugar so ask for these on the side and you can control how much you use

One of the best weight loss tips is to keep a food diary so you can monitor what you’re eating – apps such as MyFitnessPal are great and will let you set targets and give you a full nutritional breakdown of what you’re eating.  

For further information on following a low carbohydrate plan, have a look at the Low Carb Program or Carbs & Cals. If you are on insulin you might find our carb counting eLearning course helpful. 

Tracking your Progress

Registering for Diabetes My Way will allow you to track your progress on your weight loss journey, you will be able to see your weight, BMI and waist measurement, click here to register.