An evidence-based approach to developing low-carbohydrate diets for type 2 diabetes management: A systematic review of interventions and methods

Diabetes Obes Metab. 2019 Nov;21(11):2513-2525. doi: 10.1111/dom.13837. Epub 2019 Aug 14.


Aim: To identify core diet and delivery components of low-carbohydrate (CHO) diets that have demonstrated efficacy for type 2 diabetes (T2D) management.

Materials and methods: MEDLINE, Pre-MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL and the Cochrane Library of Controlled Trials databases were systematically searched from inception until August 18, 2018. Primary intervention studies of low-CHO diets (≤130 g/d or 26% total energy intake [TEI]) were included. Content analysis was performed on the low-CHO diet protocols classified as safe and effective for T2D management.

Results: A total of 41 studies published between 1963 and 2018 were included, of which 40 were classified as safe and effective for inclusion in the primary analysis. Thirteen studies (13/40) were on very-low-CHO diets (<50 g/d), 14/40 included low-CHO diets (≤130 g/d or 26% TEI), and 13/40 were adapted according to participant progress. Thirty-one studies reported a total energy prescription, of which 18/31 encouraged ad libitum intakes. Twenty studies reported a prescribed dietary fat amount, of which 18/20 were unrestricted or high-fat (>35% TEI). Twenty-six studies reported a prescribed dietary protein amount, of which 22 were unrestricted or were high-protein (>25% TEI). The types of dietary CHO, fat and protein recommended were predominantly whole foods. Common delivery methods reported were dietician and/or physician involvement, moderate to high frequency of contact (≥1 session/month) and use of participant self-monitoring.

Conclusions: Multiple approaches for developing and delivering a low-CHO diet intervention for T2D management are safe and effective. A comprehensive set of core dietary components to consider in the formulation of low-CHO diet protocols were identified for use in clinical practice and to inform evidence-based guidelines for T2D management.

Keywords: carbohydrate restriction; clinical practice; diet intervention; dietary guidelines; low-carbohydrate diets; systematic review; type 2 diabetes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / diet therapy*
  • Diet, Carbohydrate-Restricted / methods*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Treatment Outcome