Background: Although carbohydrate counting is the recommended dietary strategy for achieving glycaemic control in people with type 1 diabetes, the advice is based on narrative review and grading of the available evidence. We aimed to assess by systematic review and meta-analysis the efficacy of carbohydrate counting on glycaemic control in adults and children with type 1 diabetes.
Methods: We screened and assessed randomised controlled trials of interventions longer than 3 months that compared carbohydrate counting with general or alternate dietary advice in adults and children with type 1 diabetes. Change in glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c) concentration was the primary outcome. The results of clinically and statistically homogenous studies were pooled and meta-analysed using the random-effects model to provide estimates of the efficacy of carbohydrate counting.
Findings: We identified seven eligible trials, of 311 potentially relevant studies, comprising 599 adults and 104 children with type 1 diabetes. Study quality score averaged 7·6 out of 13. Overall there was no significant improvement in HbA1c concentration with carbohydrate counting versus the control or usual care (-0·35% [-3·9 mmol/mol], 95% CI -0·75 to 0·06; p=0·096). We identified significant heterogeneity between studies, which was potentially related to differences in study design. In the five studies in adults with a parallel design, there was a 0·64% point (7·0 mmol/mol) reduction in HbA1c with carbohydrate counting versus control (95% CI -0·91 to -0·37; p<0·0001).
Interpretation: There is some evidence to support the recommendation of carbohydrate counting over alternate advice or usual care in adults with type 1 diabetes. Additional studies are needed to support promotion of carbohydrate counting over other methods of matching insulin dose to food intake.
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