Eating a low-carb diet means cutting down on the amount of carbohydrates (carbs) you eat to less than 130g a day. But low-carb eating shouldn’t be no-carb eating.
Some carbohydrate foods contain essential vitamins, minerals and fibre, which form an important part of a healthy diet.
Here we’ll explain what we mean by low-carb, what the benefits are of low-carb eating when you have diabetes, and share a low-carb meal plan to help you get started if this is the diet for you. We’ll also explain how to get support to manage any potential risks, especially if you manage your diabetes with medications which put you at risk of hypos.
If you or someone you know is self-isolating, find out how to eat healthily whilst staying at home.
What’s a low-carb diet?
But how low is low-carb? There are different types of low-carb diets. Generally, low-carb eating is when you reduce the total amount of carbs you consume in a day to less than 130g.
To put this into context, a medium-sized slice of bread is about 15 to 20g of carbs, which is about the same as a regular apple. On the other hand, a large jacket potato could have as much as 90g of carbs, as does one litre of orange juice.
A low-carb diet isn’t for everyone. The strongest evidence we have to show the benefits of low-carb diets is in adults with obesity and those with type 2 diabetes who need to lose weight. If you do decide to follow a low-carb diet, it’s important to know all the potential benefits and how to manage any potential risks.
One of the main benefits of following a low-carb diet is weight loss. For people with type 2 diabetes, this helps to reduce HbA1c and blood fats such as cholesterol. For people who don’t have diabetes, losing weight can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and a low-carb diet is one option to lose weight.
For people with type 1 diabetes
If you have type 1, it's important to know that the best way to keep your blood sugar levels steady is to carb count rather than following a particular diet. And there is no strong evidence that following a low-carb diet is safe or beneficial, which is why we don’t recommend this diet for people with type 1 diabetes. But some people with type 1 have reported needing less insulin and losing weight from following a low-carb diet.
It is really important that you speak to your healthcare team for support to manage your insulin if you’re considering a low-carb diet.
For people with type 2 diabetes
If you have type 2 diabetes, our research has shown that losing around 15kg within three to five months significantly improves your chances of putting your type 2 diabetes into remission.
Research funded by an American company also found that some people with type 2 diabetes who followed a programme that included a low-carb eating plan were in remission after two years. Participants in the study were supported to restrict their intake of carbs, initially to less than 30g per day and then gradually increasing the amount, based on personal tolerance and health goals.
If you have obesity, finding a way to lose weight can also help you to reduce your risk of complications. There are different ways of doing this, and a low-carb diet is one option.
Find out more about weight loss and diabetes.
“I changed to a high-fat, low-carb diet and cut out sweet stuff altogether. Diabetes UK’s website and an app for my phone really helped.
“I lost around 12lbs (5.5kg) in my first week. When I returned to see the nurse after three months, my HbA1c was down to 42 – it had been 51 when I was diagnosed. The nurse thought she was seeing things.
“I’ve now lost around seven-and-a-half stone (46.8kg) and my HbA1c level is 37.”
Paul’s type 2 diabetes is now in remission.
However, there’s no evidence that following a low-carb diet is any more beneficial in managing diabetes than other approaches in the long term, including a healthy, balanced diet. Research suggests that the best type of diet is one that you can maintain in the long term, so it's important to talk to your healthcare professional about what you think will work for you. Another option is the Mediterranean diet, which is also linked to reducing the risk of heart diseases and stroke.
If you treat your diabetes with insulin or any other medication that puts you at risk of hypos (low blood sugar levels), following a low-carb diet may increase this risk. Speak to your healthcare team about this so they can help you adjust your medications to reduce your risk of hypos. Your team may also support you to check your blood sugar levels more often.
“I make sure I balance out my diet with what suits my insulin, but with a bit of tweaking, most things can be persuaded to suit my insulin!
“I won't eat a load of pasta with a side of garlic bread and not much else, because the carb load would be difficult to bolus for. But neither would I eat a completely carb free meal. It's all a question of balance, and a healthy diet is good for all of us, diabetic or not.”
Online forum user living with type 1.
Depending on the approach, following a low-carb diet may also lead to other side effects, such as constipation or bad breath. Although these can be unpleasant, they are usually temporary and shouldn’t be harmful in the long term. Speak to your healthcare professional if you’re concerned about any of these.
It’s really important to first reduce your carb intake from unhealthy sources such as sugary drinks, pizzas, cakes, biscuits, chips, white bread, fruit juices and smoothies. And it is a good idea to get your limited carbs from healthy high-fibre carb foods, such as pulses, nuts, vegetables, whole fruits and whole grains, as well as unsweetened milk and yoghurt.
You can download this meal plan here (PDF, 700KB).
There’s no one-size-fits-all for choosing a meal plan. Before you begin any healthy eating programme, read our guide on how to choose your meal plan to make sure you follow the plan that's right for you.
Our low-carb meal plan aims to help you maintain a healthy balance while reducing the amount of carbs you eat. Varying amounts of carbohydrate are shown each day to help you choose which works best for you. It's nutritionally balanced, we’ve counted the calories for you, and it contains at least five portions of fruit and veg per day.
Please note that the full nutritional information and exact specifications for all meals and snacks is available in the PDF only, and not listed below.
Breakfast: Wholemeal toast with scrambled eggs
Lunch: Cauliflower and leek soup
Dinner: Lower-fat cauliflower and broccoli cheese with a medium grilled salmon fillet
Pudding: Greek yogurt with raspberries
Choose from snacks including fruit, nuts and rye crackers with avocado.
Breakfast: Greek yogurt with raspberries and pumpkin seeds
Lunch: Chickpea and tuna salad and strawberries
Dinner: Beef goulash
Pudding: Rhubarb fool
Choose from snacks including granary bread with peanut butter, avocado, Greek yogurt, crudites and nuts.
Breakfast: Porridge with almonds, blueberries and pumpkin seeds
Lunch: Mackerel salsa wrap
Dinner: Chicken casserole with broccoli
Pudding: Greek yogurt with strawberries and blueberries
Choose from snacks including nuts, wholemeal rice cakes with peanut butter and crudites with guacamole.
Breakfast: Mushroom omelette with mushrooms and grilled tomato
Lunch: Creamy chicken and mushroom soup and Greek yogurt with raspberries
Dinner: Beefburger with green salad
Pudding: Summer berry posset
Choose from snacks including oatcakes with light cream cheese, nuts and avocado.
Breakfast: Scrambled egg on granary toast with mushrooms
Lunch: Beef and barley soup and Greek yogurt
Dinner: Italian-style braised lamb steaks with brown rice and broccoli
Pudding: Microwave mug: Chocolate, banana and almond cup with half-fat creme fraiche
Choose from snacks including nuts, cheese and guacamole with crudites.
Breakfast: Wholemeal toast with grilled bacon and mushrooms
Lunch: Bang bang chicken salad
Dinner: Coq au vin with broccoli
Pudding: Hot chocolate
Choose from snacks including raspberry smoothie and nuts.
Breakfast: Scrambled egg with smoked salmon on granary toast
Lunch: Ham, leek and Parmesan frittata with avocado, celery, cucumber and lettuce
Dinner: Roast chicken, roast potatoes, green beans and gravy
Pudding: Greek yogurt with raspberries
Choose from snacks including olives, nuts, dried fruit and oatcakes with light cream cheese.