Effects of low-carbohydrate- compared with low-fat-diet interventions on metabolic control in people with type 2 diabetes: a systematic review including GRADE assessments

Am J Clin Nutr. 2018 Aug 1;108(2):300-331. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqy096.


Background: It remains uncertain which diet is best for people with type 2 diabetes (T2D).

Objective: We compared the effects of dietary carbohydrate restriction with fat restriction on markers of metabolic syndrome and quality of life in people with T2D.

Design: This systematic review of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and controlled clinical trials (CCTs) compares the effects of a low-carbohydrate [≤40% of energy (%)] diet with those of a low-fat (≤30%) diet over a period of ≥4 wk in patients with T2D. Two investigators independently selected studies, extracted data, and assessed risk of bias. The GRADE (Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation) approach was used to assess the certainty of evidence. Pooled mean differences (MDs) and 95% CIs were calculated with the use of a random-effects model.

Results: Thirty-three RCTs and 3 CCTs (n = 2161) were included. Glycated hemoglobin declined more in people who consumed low-carbohydrate food than in those who consumed low-fat food in the short term (MD: -1.38%; 95% CI: -2.64%, -0.11%; very-low-certainty evidence). At 1 y, the MD was reduced to -0.36% (95% CI: -0.58%, -0.14%; low-certainty evidence); at 2 y, the difference had disappeared. There is low to high (majority moderate) certainty for small improvements of unclear clinical importance in plasma glucose, triglycerides, and HDL concentrations favoring low-carbohydrate food at half of the prespecified time points. There was little to no difference in LDL concentration or any of the secondary outcomes (body weight, waist circumference, blood pressure, quality of life) in response to either of the diets (very-low- to high-certainty evidence).

Conclusions: Currently available data provide low- to moderate-certainty evidence that dietary carbohydrate restriction to a maximum of 40% yields slightly better metabolic control of uncertain clinical importance than reduction in fat to a maximum of 30% in people with T2D. This systematic review is registered at http://www.crd.york.ac.uk/PROSPERO/display_record.php?ID=CRD42017052467 as CRD42017052467.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Blood Glucose / analysis
  • Cholesterol, HDL / blood
  • Cholesterol, LDL / blood
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / metabolism*
  • Diet, Carbohydrate-Restricted*
  • Diet, Fat-Restricted*
  • Glycated Hemoglobin A / analysis
  • Humans


  • Blood Glucose
  • Cholesterol, HDL
  • Cholesterol, LDL
  • Glycated Hemoglobin A
  • hemoglobin A1c protein, human