Over the past decade, ever more mainstream health organizations and government agencies have been slowly reversing their official positions on the dietary intake of carbohydrates, sugar, fat, cholesterol, and salt. This was seen in how the American Heart Association, without acknowledgment, backed off its once strong position about fats that it defended since I think 1961, with the federal government adopting the same position as official policy in 1980. Here we are in 2019, more than a half century later.
Now we see the American Diabetes Association finally coming around as well. And its been a long time coming. When my grandmother was in an assisted living home, the doctors and nurses at the time were following the official ADA position of what were called “consistent carbs”. Basically, this meant diabetics were given a high-carb diet and that was considered perfectly fine, as long as it was consistent so as to manage diabetes with consistent high levels of insulin use. It was freaking insanity in defying common sense.
While my grandmother was still living with my parents, my mother kept her blood sugar under control through diet, until she went to this healthcare facility. After that, her blood sugar was all over the place. The nurses had no comprehension that not all carbohydrates are equal since the glycemic index might be equivalent between a cookie and a carrot, irrespective of glycemic load and ignoring that maybe diabetics should simply be cutting out carbs in general. Instead, they argued that old people should be allowed to enjoy carbs, even if it meant that these nurses were slowly killing their patients and profiting the insulin companies at the same time. My mother was not happy about this callous attitude by these medical ‘professionals’.
Yet here we are. The ADA now says low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diets aren’t a fad and aren’t dangerous. They go so far as to say they are beneficial for type 2 diabetes. Those not completely ignorant have been saying this for generations. And the research has been accumulating for just as long. The shift in official recommendations that happened in the decades following the 1960s never made sense even according to the research at the time. Many academics and researchers pointed out the lack of evidence in blaming saturated fat and cholesterol. But they were ignored and dismissed, then later attacked, discredited, and silenced by influential and, in some cases, downright charismatic figures (e.g., Ancel Keys) in powerful organizations that became aligned with leading politicians and bureaucrats in key positions. Many careers were destroyed and debate was shut down.
Now those victims of dietary authoritarianism are vindicated, not that this helps all the average folk harmed. There was many decades of bad dietary advice was force onto the American public. This determined official policies and practices of government healthcare programs, school lunch programs, and healthcare providers. Because of the central position of the United States as a geopolitical power during the Cold War, countries all over the world adopted this unhealthy dietary ideology as part of their own official policies.
This also influenced the food system with the government subsidizing high yields of corn and grains to meet the recommendations of these nutritional guidelines. Big ag and big food changed their business models accordingly and put out products that were high in carbs and sugar while low in saturated fat, replacing the latter with unhealthy hydrogenated oils. At least hundreds of millions, if not billions of people, worldwide over multiple generations have suffered a horrible diet, increased sickness, bad medical care, and premature mortality as a result.
Without admitting they were wrong all this time, without apologizing for all the harm they caused, these leading experts and officials are changing their opinion. Better late than never. Mark this date for it is a historic moment.
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3/19/2022: The AHA has once against reversed one of its decades-old recommendations. This time, in following the ADA’s example, they’ve backed off of their pro-carbohydrate advocacy. They now admit that low-carb diets, including the keto diet, can be healthy. This is a massive change. Up until quite recently, the AHA put its Heart Healthy logo on sugary cereals, simply because they had grains that were supposedly healthy.
These changes, once again, happened without any major public announcement and little corporate media reporting. Quietly, new recommendations replace the old without any admission that they were wrong for generations, much less any apology. As some suspect, a decade or so down the road, they’ll finally come out with fully publicized official recommendations about high-fat, low-carb diets; and they’ll state they’ve been supporting such diets for years. What they’ll never note is that they supported the complete opposite for decades.
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A cautiously endorses low-carb nutrition
by Dr. Bret Scher
The central message is one of acceptance and individualization which they sum up by saying:
“Evidence suggests that there is not an ideal percentage of calories from carbohydrate, protein, and fat for people with diabetes. Therefore, macronutrient distribution should be based on an individualized assessment of current eating patterns, preferences, and metabolic goals.”
While there is definite truth that people have different preferences and metabolic goals, the ADA could risk oversimplification if they stopped there. Fortunately, they get more specific, mentioning the benefits of low-carb:
“For individuals with type 2 diabetes not meeting glycemic targets or for whom reducing glucose-lowering drugs is a priority, reducing overall carbohydrate intake with a low- or very-low-carbohydrate eating pattern is a viable option”
My first question is, who wouldn’t prioritize reducing medications? That should be a given for everyone. Unfortunately, in our pharmaceutically driven medical society, that’s not always the case. But I give kudos to the ADA for mentioning it. I only hope that it will become the new standard, so that next time the ADA can say, “Since reducing or eliminating diabetes medications is a universal goal, we recommend low-cab diets.”
My second question is, what are the glycemic targets? Is it the standard HgbA1c of 7? Or is it time to recognize we can do much better with lifestyle, as opposed to drugs, and set the goal as less than 5.7 for everyone?
After an initial backing of low-carb diets, the guideline then takes a questionable turn.
“As research studies on some low-carbohydrate eating plans generally indicate challenges with long-term sustainability, it is important to reassess and individualize meal plan guidance regularly for those interested in this approach.”
With Virta Health reporting 83% compliance at 1 year and 74% at 2 years, I would take issue with a blanket statement that compliance is challenging. In fact, any behavioral change has long-term sustainability issues, and carbohydrate restriction may be no different, but it does not deserve to be singled out as particularly difficult. Certainly, if we discuss it with a patient saying “this is difficult to maintain long term,” that has less chance of success than if we say, “All behavior change is difficult, but given the potential health benefits, this is worth committing to for the long-term.” As they say in the beginning of the guide, the words we use matter and we should focus on positive and inspiring messages.
Nutrition Therapy for Adults With Diabetes or Prediabetes: A Consensus Report
by Alison B. Evert et al, American Diabetes Association
(also see here)
EATING PATTERNS: Consensus recommendations
- A variety of eating patterns (combinations of different foods or food groups) are acceptable for the management of diabetes.
- Until the evidence surrounding comparative benefits of different eating patterns in specific individuals strengthens, health care providers should focus on the key
factors that are common among the patterns:
○ Emphasize nonstarchy vegetables.
○ Minimize added sugars and refined grains.
○ Choose whole foods over highly processed foods to the extent possible.
- Reducing overall carbohydrate intake for individuals with diabetes has demonstrated the most evidence for improving glycemia and may be applied in a variety of eating patterns that meet individual needs and preferences.
- For select adults with type 2 diabetes not meeting glycemic targets or where reducing antiglycemic medications is a priority, reducing overall carbohydrate intake with low- or very lowcarbohydrate eating plans is a viable approach
New Consensus Report Recommends Individualized Eating Plan to Meet Each Person’s Goals, Life Circumstances and Health Status
news release from American Diabetes Association
“‘What can I eat?’ is the number one question asked by people with diabetes and prediabetes when diagnosed. This new Consensus Report reflects the ADA’s continued commitment to evidence-based guidelines that are achievable and meet people where they are and recommends an individualized nutrition plan for every person with diabetes or prediabetes,” said the ADA’s Chief Scientific, Medical and Mission Officer William T. Cefalu, MD. “The importance of this consensus also lies in the fact it was authored by a group of experts who are extremely knowledgeable about numerous eating patterns, including vegan, vegetarian and low carb.”
Just out: @AmDiabetesAssn guidelines–most comprehensive review to date of Dietary Patterns + diabetes prevention/treatment. What’s new: low-carb recommendations are prominent. (Says low-carb “are among the most studied eating patterns for T2 diabetes.”) […]
This is the key advancement of new @AmDiabetesAssn guidelines. Low carb is no longer “dangerous”‘or “fad”‘but a “viable”‘diet supported by “substantial”‘research and considered best for a number of T2 diabetes outcomes.
Dr. John Owens:
This is an historic day! My case managers and dietitian have been supporting my low-carb recommendations for years, going against ADA guidelines. Now they don’t have to!
Dr. Eric Sodicoff:
Still….They seem a little backward here. Bust out the low carb diet when meds not working?? Really? IMHO-Carb restriction is JOB #1 in diabetes management for use early and always. It is NOT second to medication my treatment protocol.
If you go back to the beginning, like back in the 1930’s, the doctors were telling diabetics to stop eating carbohydrates. Then somebody fabricated the cholesterol theory of heart disease and invented a drug called statins. Then suddenly carbs were okay for diabetics.
Nutrition Therapy for Adults With Diabetes or Prediabetes: A Consensus Report — American Diabetes Association
“Eating patterns that replace certain carbohydrate foods with those higher in total fat, however, have demonstrated greater improvements in glycemia and certain CVD risk factors (serum HDL cholesterol [HDL-C] and triglycerides) compared with lower fat diets.”
Yay! Ack that higher fat isn’t deadly.
“The body makes enough cholesterol for physiological and structural functions such that people do not need to obtain cholesterol through foods. Although the DGA concluded that available evidence does not support the recommendation to limit dietary cholesterol for the general population, exact recommendations for dietary cholesterol for other populations, such as people with diabetes, are not as clear (8). Whereas cholesterol intake has correlated with serum cholesterol levels, it has not correlated well with CVD events (65,66). More research is needed regarding the relationship among dietary cholesterol, blood cholesterol, and CVD events in people with diabetes.”
Or, in layman’s language: While the data doesn’t support vilifying cholesterol as causing heart attacks, we’re going to keep on searching in hopes we find the answer we want.
Are protein needs different for people with diabetes and kidney disease?
“Historically, low-protein eating plans were advised to reduce albuminuria and progression of chronic kidney disease in people with DKD, typically with improvements in albuminuria but no clear effect on estimated glomerular filtration rate. In addition, there is some indication that a low-protein eating plan may lead to malnutrition in individuals with DKD (317–321). The average daily level of protein intake for people with diabetes without kidney disease is typically 1–1.5 g/kg body weight/day or 15–20% of total calories (45,146). Evidence does not suggest that people with DKD need to restrict protein intake to less than the average protein intake.”
“The amount of carbohydrate intake required for optimal health in humans is unknown. Although the recommended dietary allowance for carbohydrate for adults without diabetes (19 years and older) is 130 g/day and is determined in part by the brain’s requirement for glucose, this energy requirement can be fulfilled by the body’s metabolic processes, which include glycogenolysis, gluconeogenesis (via metabolism of the glycerol component of fat or gluconeogenic amino acids in protein), and/or ketogenesis in the setting of very low dietary carbohydrate intake (49).”
“Low-carbohydrate (110–112) Emphasizes vegetables low in carbohydrate (such as salad greens, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, cabbage, and others); fat from animal foods, oils, butter, and avocado; and protein in the form of meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, eggs, cheese, nuts, and seeds. Some plans include fruit (e.g., berries) and a greater array of nonstarchy vegetables. Avoids starchy and sugary foods such as pasta, rice, potatoes, bread, and sweets. There is no consistent definition of “low” carbohydrate. In this review, a low-carbohydrate eating pattern is defined as reducing carbohydrates to 26–45% of total calories. c A1C reduction c Weight loss c Lowered blood pressure c Increased HDL-C and lowered triglycerides
“Very low-carbohydrate (VLC) (110–112) Similar to low-carbohydrate pattern but further limits carbohydrate-containing foods, and meals typically derive more than half of calories from fat. Often has a goal of 20–50 g of nonfiber carbohydrate per day to induce nutritional ketosis. In this review a VLC eating pattern is defined as reducing carbohydrate to ,26% of total calories. c A1C reduction c Weight loss c Lowered blood pressure c Increased HDL-C and lowered triglycerides”
Low-Carbohydrate or Very Low Carbohydrate Eating Patterns
“Low-carbohydrate eating patterns, especially very low-carbohydrate (VLC) eating patterns, have been shown to reduce A1C and the need for antihyperglycemic medications. These eating patterns are among the most studied eating patterns for type 2 diabetes. One metaanalysis of RCTs that compared lowcarbohydrate eating patterns (defined as #45% of calories from carbohydrate) to high-carbohydrate eating patterns (defined as .45% of calories from carbohydrate) found that A1C benefits were more pronounced in the VLC interventions (where ,26% of calories came from carbohydrate) at 3 and 6 months but not at 12 and 24 months (110).
“Another meta-analysis of RCTs compared a low-carbohydrate eating pattern (defined as ,40% of calories from carbohydrate) to a low-fat eating pattern (defined as ,30% of calories from fat). In trials up to 6 months long, the low-carbohydrate eating pattern improved A1C more, and in trials of varying lengths, lowered triglycerides, raised HDL-C, lowered blood pressure, and resulted in greater reductions in diabetes medication (111). Finally, in another meta-analysis comparing lowcarbohydrate to high-carbohydrate eating patterns, the larger the carbohydrate restriction, the greater the reduction in A1C, though A1C was similar at durations of 1 year and longer for both eating patterns (112). Table 4 provides a quick reference conversion of percentage of calories from carbohydrate to grams of carbohydrate based on number of calories consumed per day.
“Because of theoretical concerns regarding use of VLC eating plans in people with chronic kidney disease, disordered eating patterns, and women who are pregnant, further research is needed before recommendations can be made for these subgroups. Adopting a VLC eating plan can cause diuresis and swiftly reduce blood glucose; therefore, consultation with a knowledgeable practitioner at the onset is necessary to prevent dehydration and reduce insulin and hypoglycemic medications to prevent hypoglycemia.
“No randomized trials were found in people with type 2 diabetes that varied the saturated fat content of the low- or very low-carbohydrate eating patterns to examine effects on glycemia, CVD risk factors, or clinical events. Most of the trials using a carbohydrate-restricted eating pattern did not restrict saturated fat; from the current evidence, this eating pattern does not appear to increase overall cardiovascular risk, but longterm studies with clinical event outcomes are needed (113–117).”
What is the evidence to support specific eating patterns in the management of type 1 diabetes?
“For adults with type 1 diabetes, no trials met the inclusion criteria for this Consensus Report related to Mediterraneanstyle, vegetarian or vegan, low-fat, low-carbohydrate, DASH, paleo, Ornish, or Pritikin eating patterns. We found limited evidence about the safety and/or effects of fasting on type 1 diabetes (129). A few studies have examined the impact of a VLC eating pattern for adults with type 1 diabetes. One randomized crossover trial with 10 participants examined a VLC eating pattern aiming for 47 g carbohydrate per day without a focus on calorie restriction compared with a higher carbohydrate eating pattern aiming for 225 g carbohydrate per day for 1 week each. Participants following the VLC eating pattern had less glycemic variability, spent more time in euglycemia and less time in hypoglycemia, and required less insulin (130). A single-arm 48-person trial of a VLC eating pattern aimed at a goal of 75 g of carbohydrate or less per day found that weight, A1C, and triglycerides were reduced and HDL-C increased after 3 months, and after 4 years A1C was still lower and HDL-C was still higher than at baseline (131). This evidence suggests that a VLC eating pattern may have potential benefits for adults with type 1 diabetes, but clinical trials of sufficient size and duration are needed to confirm prior findings.”
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5/14/20 – The official changes in support of low-carb diets continues to spread among major health institutions around the world. A new consensus is slowly being established about the health benefits of varying degrees of carbohydrate restriction. Canada is the most recent country following this trend. Below is a recent article describing this shift in mainstream opinion among experts and officials, specifically about our northern neighbor:
Diabetes Canada Deems Low Carb and Very Low Carb Diet Safe and Effective
by Joy Kiddie
Diabetes Canada has just released a new Position Statement acknowledging that a low carb and very low carb (keto) diet is both safe and effective for adults with diabetes.
Reflecting back on their 2018 Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Prevention and Management of Diabetes in Canada release in April 2018 and covered in this article, Diabetes Canada clarified in today’s Position Statement that it was not their intention to restrict the choice of individuals with diabetes to follow dietary patterns with carbohydrate intake that were below the consensus recommendation of 45-60% energy as carbohydrate, nor to discourage health-care practitioners from providing low-carb dietary support to individuals who wanted to follow a low-carb meal pattern.
In the new Position Statement, Diabetes Canada acknowledged what I’ve written about previously, that Diabetes Australia, Diabetes UK, and the American Diabetes Association (ADA) in conjunction with the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) have developed position statements and recommendations regarding the use of low carbohydrate and very low carbohydrate (ketogenic) diets for people with diabetes. They state that from these previous international position statements and recommendations, several consistent themes have emerged — specifically that low carbohydrate diets (defined as less than <130 g of carbohydrate per day or <45% energy as carbohydrate) and very low carbohydrate diets (defined as <50 g of carbohydrate per day) can be safe and effective both in managing weight, as well as lowering glycated hemoglobin (HbA1C) in people with type 2 diabetes over the short term (<3 months).