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Type 2 diabetes: Cutting out carbs in breakfast may help

  • About 422 million people globally have diabetes, with 90-95% of those cases being type 2 diabetes.
  • Some people are able to reverse type 2 diabetes through changes to their diet and weight loss.
  • Researchers from The University of British Columbia say cutting carbs at breakfast can help people with type 2 diabetes better control their blood sugar levels throughout the day.

Diabetes, a disease affecting the body’s ability to process blood sugar, affects around 422 million people worldwide, according to estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Among those with diabetes, about 90-95% of all cases are type 2 diabetes.

Although there is currently no cure for type 2 diabetes, some people can reverse it through lifestyle changes, including diet and weight loss.

Now, researchers from The University of British Columbia have found evidence suggesting cutting carbohydrates from breakfast can help people with type 2 diabetes better control their blood sugar levels throughout the day.

This study was recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Comparing low carb to high carb meals

For this study, Dr. Jonathan Little, professor at the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management, professor in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences at The University of British Columbia, and lead author of this study, and his team enrolled 121 participants and split them into two groups.

Over a 12-week period, one group ate a low carb breakfast containing about eight grams of carbs, 25 grams of protein, and 37 grams of fat. The other group ate a higher-carb breakfast of about 56 grams of carbs, 20 grams of protein, and 15 grams of fat. All breakfast options in both groups were about 450 calories.

Upon analysis, the research team found study participants in the low carb breakfast group experienced an improvement in their HbA1C, a key measure of average blood glucose control. However, they also found that the improvement was no better than that of the control group who were not following a low carb regime.

“We expected blood sugar level reductions in the low-carbohydrate group. Our main objective was to see reductions in A1C — average blood sugar levels over the past three months — which happened in the low-carbohydrate group (-0.3%), but was not significant when compared to the control group,” Dr. Little said.

Additionally, some low carb participants were able to reduce their glucose-lowering medications.

“It was not one of the outcomes, and we cannot fully attribute medication reduction to the intervention, but surprisingly eight people in the low-carbohydrate group reduced medication,” Dr. Little added.

Carbs at breakfast impact the whole day

At the end of the study, scientists also found the blood sugar levels of those in the low carb group did not vary widely throughout the day, suggesting a low carb breakfast helps stabilize blood sugar levels throughout the day.

And they noticed participants who consumed a low carb breakfast self-reported eating fewer carbohydrates at lunch and during the rest of the day. This, the researchers said, suggests a breakfast higher in fat and protein can also impact eating habits throughout the day.

After reading this study, Dr. Daniel Pompa, cellular health expert, author of the “Cellular Healing Diet”, and host of a weekly Cellular Healing TV podcast and YouTube show, told Medical News Today that the results of this study come as no surprise as excess sugar and carbohydrate intake are important factors in type 2 diabetes.

“By consuming fewer carbohydrates with breakfast, we aren’t introducing even more sugar into the body, so controlling blood glucose levels is more manageable,” he explained.

“What I am saying is that type 2 diabetes isn’t a life sentence if the proper lifestyle modifications are implemented,” he said.

Dr. Little said these findings may help doctors consider recommending a low-carbohydrate breakfast to people with type 2 diabetes.

“Scrambled eggs, egg omelet, or non-sweetened full-fat Greek yogurt are all great options,” he said.

What is type 2 diabetes? 

A person may have diabetes if their body cannot correctly process its blood sugars, also known as blood glucose.

There are two main types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the pancreas no longer makes insulin.
  • Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body does not make or use insulin correctly. There are many different genetic and environmental factors that increase someone’s risk of type 2 diabetes, including obesity, inactivity, being over the age of 45 and having a close family member with type 2 diabetes.

If a person has type 1 diabetes, they will need to administer insulin to their body every day.

With type 2 diabetes, people may or may not be required to give themselves insulin. They may also be required to take certain medications.

While type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented, many cases of type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed through lifestyle changes, including weight loss, eating a healthy diet, and regular exercise.

People with type 2 diabetes are also at a higher risk for developing other conditions, including:

  • heart disease
  • high blood pressure
  • kidney disease
  • neuropathy
  • dementia
  • eye conditions such as diabetic retinopathy
  • certain cancers, including breast, liver, and pancreatic cancers

Carbs and type 2 diabetes

Carbohydrates are essential nutrients the body turns into glucose for the energy it needs to work.

There are two main types of carbs:

Simple carbohydrates have a basic chemical structure and are very easy for the body to digest. Examples of simple carbs include fruits, dairy products, and processed sugary foods like candy, soda, and table sugar.

Eating too many simple carbs can spike the body’s blood sugar level. In someone with type 2 diabetes, these spikes increase the risk of diabetic complications.

Complex carbohydrates take longer for the body to process, so they will not cause spikes in blood sugar levels. Examples of complex carbs include vegetables, beans, legumes, and whole grains.

Why reduce carb intake during breakfast? 

According to Dr. Little, he and his team focused on cutting carbs only during breakfast because a full low-carb diet is hard to stick with long term.

“The overall concept is that breakfast blood sugar spikes are largest after breakfast in type 2 diabetes due to (the) high carb content of the meal and the lingering effects of (the) ‘dawn phenomenon,’ which make glucose intolerance worst in (the) morning for type 2 diabetes,” he told Medical News Today.

“If you only adapt the breakfast meal, you avoid the largest spike, and it is easier to stick to over time,” he explained.

“We know that post-meal blood sugar spikes are linked to diabetes complications, particularly damage to blood vessels. Avoiding those spikes throughout the day reduces the risk of microvascular complications such as retinopathy and high blood pressure,” Dr. Little added.

Discuss diet changes with a doctor

Medical News Today also spoke with Dr. Pouya Shafipour, a board certified family and obesity medicine physician of Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, about this research.

Dr. Shafipour commented that the study’s findings are in line with the time-restricted eating and intermittent fasting he has been advocating for and prescribing to his patients.

“The main way we can really reverse [diabetes] and improve it is diet, exercise, improving mental health, and improving sleep to keep the blood sugar down,” he said.

Dr. Shafipour also stressed that it’s important for people with type 2 diabetes to work with their doctors when considering a diet change, as each person’s needs will be different.

“If they’re on certain types of medications that drop the blood sugar, skipping breakfast could be very dangerous because (of the) risk of adverse effects of hypoglycemia. Someone can suddenly go into a coma or cardiac arrest if the blood sugar drops too low,” he explained.

“It is something that, as doctors, we have a tool for the majority of diabetic patients who are not on these drugs to use, and it helps with appetite (and) it helps with cravings throughout the day because it forces the body to use the internal factor reserves more, which stabilizes blood sugar and reduces hunger,” Dr. Shafipour added.

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  • Posted on June 6, 2023