Effects of very low-carbohydrate vs. high-carbohydrate weight loss diets on psychological health in adults with obesity and type 2 diabetes: a 2-year randomized controlled trial

Eur J Nutr. 2021 Dec;60(8):4251-4262. doi: 10.1007/s00394-021-02587-z. Epub 2021 May 20.


Aims: Very low-carbohydrate (LC) diets are popular for type 2 diabetes (T2DM) management; however, long-term effects on psychological health remain largely unknown. This study reports the effects of a LC diet on mood and cognitive function after 2 years and explores the potential predictors of changes in psychological health.

Methods: 115 adults (57% males; age: 58.5 ± 7.1 years) with obesity and T2DM were randomized to consume an energy reduced (~ 500 to 1000 kcal/day deficit), LC diet [14% energy as carbohydrate, 28% protein, 58% fat (< 10% saturated fat)] or an isocaloric high unrefined carbohydrate, low-fat diet [HC: 53% carbohydrate, 17% protein, 30% fat (< 10% saturated fat)] for 2 years. Both diets were combined with aerobic/resistance exercise (1 h, 3 days/week). Mood/well-being [Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), Spielberger State Anxiety Inventory (SAI), Profile of Mood States (POMS)], diabetes-related quality of life [Diabetes-39 (D-39)] and distress [Problem Areas in Diabetes (PAID) Questionnaire], and cognitive function were assessed during and post-intervention.

Results: 61 (LC: 33, HC: 28) participants completed the study. Weight loss was 9.1% after 12 months and 6.7% after 2 years with no difference between diet groups. There were no differences between the groups for the changes in any psychological health outcome (smallest p ≥ 0.19 for all time x diet interactions). Overtime, improvements in BDI, POMS [Total Mood Disturbance (TMD); four subscales], PAID, and D-39 (three subscales) scores occurred (p ≤ 0.05, time). Stepwise regression analysis showed improvements in BDI, POMS (TMD; two subscales), D-39, SAI, and PAID scores were significantly (p < 0.05) correlated with reductions in body weight and glycated hemoglobin.

Conclusion: In adults with obesity and T2DM, energy-restricted LC and HC diets produced comparable long-term improvements on a comprehensive range of psychological health outcomes. The findings suggest both diets can be used as a diabetes management strategy as part of a holistic lifestyle modification program without concern of negative effects on mental well-being or cognition.

Trial registration: ACTRN12612000369820, https://www.anzctr.org.au/Trial/Registration/TrialReview.aspx?id=362168&isReview=true . Data described in the manuscript, code book, and analytic code will not be made available because approval has not been granted by participants.

Keywords: Diabetes; Diet; Macronutrient composition; Psychological well-being; Weight loss.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Carbohydrates
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2*
  • Diet, Carbohydrate-Restricted
  • Diet, Fat-Restricted
  • Diet, Reducing
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity
  • Quality of Life
  • Weight Loss*


  • Carbohydrates

Associated data

  • ANZCTR/ACTRN12612000369820