The ups and downs of low-carbohydrate diets in the management of Type 1 diabetes: a review of clinical outcomes

Diabet Med. 2019 Mar;36(3):326-334. doi: 10.1111/dme.13845. Epub 2018 Nov 19.


Dietary management has been a mainstay of care in Type 1 diabetes since before the discovery of insulin when severe carbohydrate restriction was advocated. The use of insulin facilitated re-introduction of carbohydrate into the diet. Current management guidelines focus on a healthy and varied diet with consideration of glycaemic load, protein and fat. As a result of frustration with glycaemic outcomes, low-carbohydrate diets have seen a resurgence in popularity. To date, low-carbohydrate diets have not been well studied in the management of Type 1 diabetes. Studies looking at glycaemic outcomes from low-carbohydrate diets have largely been cross-sectional, without validated dietary data and with a lack of control groups. The participants have been highly motivated self-selected individuals who follow intensive insulin management practices, including frequent blood glucose monitoring and additional insulin corrections with tight glycaemic targets. These confounders limit the ability to determine the extent of the impact of dietary carbohydrate restriction on glycaemic outcomes. Carbohydrate-containing foods including grains, fruit and milk are important sources of nutrients. Hence, low-carbohydrate diets require attention to vitamin and energy intake to avoid micronutrient deficiencies and growth issues. Adherence to restricted diets is challenging and can have an impact on social normalcy. In individuals with Type 1 diabetes, adverse health risks such as diabetic ketoacidosis, hypoglycaemia, dyslipidaemia and glycogen depletion remain clinical concerns. In the present paper, we review studies published to date and provide clinical recommendations for ongoing monitoring and support for individuals who choose to adopt a low-carbohydrate diet. Strategies to optimize postprandial glycaemia without carbohydrate restriction are presented.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Blood Glucose / metabolism
  • Blood Glucose Self-Monitoring
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / blood
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / diet therapy*
  • Diet, Carbohydrate-Restricted* / adverse effects
  • Diet, Carbohydrate-Restricted* / methods
  • Diet, Carbohydrate-Restricted* / standards
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / methods
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / standards
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Blood Glucose
  • Dietary Carbohydrates