Like many children, Andrew Hightower, 13, likes pizza, sandwiches and dessert.
But Andrew has Type 1 diabetes, and six years ago, in order to control his blood sugar levels, his parents put him on a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet. His mother makes him recipes with diabetic-friendly ingredients that won’t spike his blood sugar, like pizza with a low-carb, almond-flour crust; homemade bread with walnut flour instead of white flour; and yogurt topped with blueberries, raspberries and nuts.
Andrew’s diet requires careful planning — he often takes his own meals with him to school. But he and his parents say it makes it easier to manage his condition and, since starting the diet, his blood sugar control has markedly improved and he has not had any diabetes complications requiring trips to the hospital.
“I do this so that I can be healthy,” Andrew, who lives with his parents in Jacksonville, Fla., said of his diet. “When I eventually move out and go to college, I’m going to keep up what I’m doing because I’m on the right path.”
Most diabetes experts do not recommend low-carb diets for people with Type 1 diabetes, especially children. Some worry that restricting carbs can lead to dangerously low blood sugar levels, a condition known as hypoglycemia, and potentially stunt a child’s growth. But a new study published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday suggests otherwise.
It found that children and adults with Type 1 diabetes who followed a very low-carb, high-protein diet for an average of just over two years — combined with the diabetes drug insulin at smaller doses than typically required on a normal diet — had “exceptional” blood sugar control. They had low rates of major complications, and children who followed it for years did not show any signs of impaired growth.
IHPI member Joyce Lee, a diabetes expert at the University of Michigan who was not involved in the study, said the findings were impressive and merited further follow-up, and that patients who wanted to explore a low-carb approach might do so while being monitored by their health care team. But she also noted that the patients in the new study were a “highly motivated” group, and that it would be difficult for many people to adopt the restrictive regimen they followed.
“The reality is that it’s really hard to do low-carb, given our cultural norms,” said Dr. Lee, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan.