The Case for Lowering Carbs, Part 1


My brain is scrambled.

With much reluctance, I often ask myself this question:

What’s more damaging to one’s health?  A low carb diet or blood sugars higher than that of a non-diabetic?

The answer to this question is complicated because there are different things to consider:

  • Is a low A1c the healthiest A1c?  For example, is a 4.8 A1c better than a 6.2 providing there is a low standard deviation?  (it seems up for debate?)
  • Do I want to risk having a heart attack or stroke in 30 years and enjoy eating what I like in the meantime?
  • Do I want to endure a strict and limited diet in favor of more easily managed blood sugars?
  • What health issues can arise from low carb?  What health issues can arise from decades of higher than normal blood sugars?
  • Personally, heart disease and metabolic syndrome runs on both sides of my family.
  • I’m Hispanic, so a minority, and more susceptible to heart disease and stroke.

If you’re thinking, “low carb doesn’t mean well managed blood sugars”, well that is true.  However,  assuming you’re not struggling with the basics like the ins and outs of testing, giving insulin, and carb counting, in my experience is does mean well managed blood sugars.  (Key words: my experience)Because of The Law of Small Numbers, low carb really helps me avoid sharp blood sugar peaks and valleys.  The time I tried low carb, my A1c was a 4.6 and 4.7 and I’ve never felt so healthy in my entire life.  Right after that I got pregnant with twins so obviously I had to up my carbs for that.  Though, I still didn’t consume more than 120 carbs per day, even at 8 months pregnant.

But what about too many lows when striving for such a low A1c?  The thing is, if you have type 1 diabetes, low blood sugars occur from too much insulin and low carb means giving very little amounts of insulin, which typically makes it to where one doesn’t experience many lows or at least not many harsh lows.  (Again, assuming everything else is in place)  Low or lower carb helps me avoid more instances where I might get close to passing out from a quickly moving low and for me that’s like buckling up every time I get in my car to drive.

The danger with lows is always explained like this:  “The lower your average blood sugar, the increased likelihood that you will suffer from dangerous lows.”  This statement leaves out an important variable, which is the quantity of insulin given.  I’m not going to drop super low all the time if I’m giving a unit or two of insulin for a meal and have the correct basal rate.  And if I do go low, it won’t often be the type of low that requires assistance.  The times I’ve had wicked lows are the times I’ve had to give a lot of insulin to cover a high carb meal or to bring down a major high blood sugar.

If you’re striving for a low A1c and eat a diet relatively high in carbs, well then yes, you are risking too many dangerous lows.  My diet has lately consisted of more carbs and the extra amount of insulin I have to give is driving me nuts and driving me to eat less carbs.  I don’t want to just give more insulin because then I gain weight and deal with more ups and downs.  Right now, I’m a full time mom of twin toddlers, full time house wife, three meal a day chef, and a part time writer and blogger.  I don’t have the time or energy to tackle these blood sugars.  It’s overwhelming me.  But I also can’t use my current lifestyle as an excuse to have higher blood sugars.  That won’t make me feel better later when I’m dealing with the consequences.

By the way, my last A1c was 5.4 but my hematocrit was 39.7, slightly below 40 which I’ve understood lowers one’s A1c somewhat.  My meter tells me my A1c is more of a 6%.  I thought that was important to clarify at some point.

Anyway, as you see, I’m quite torn.  Torn indeed.  I know it’s not the right decision for everyone considering the multitude of variables involved but in this post I’m simply wondering if it’s the right thing for me, personally.  I will keep thinking on this…

Help me out.  What do you think?  Do you eat low carb or lower carb?  Why or why not?

7 thoughts on “The Case for Lowering Carbs, Part 1

  1. Amy

    I’m having this battle in my own brain right now! I have no answers for you. On the advice of another PWD, I spent a day eating very low carb while on a steroid (…which is a whole other variable) and my blood sugar deviated by all of about 20 mg/dL. I’ve dismissed low-carb eating for a long time, but that one experience has led me to reconsider. So, no advice for you but I can relate to the brain battle you’re describing!

  2. Emily Viall

    I’ve been trying to eat low/lower carb since September. It’s been going pretty well on most days but, as a college student, sometimes it can be a struggle to find the energy to cook and to avoid eating like my 5 roommates.

    I know what you’re saying about the lows though. My lows are rarely as debilitating as they once were when I was eating a regular, high carb diet.

    I’m pretty proud of how I’ve been doing so far with the diet though. After starting this new diet, my sugars started to be more normal more of the time and I felt AHHmazing and healthier than ever. My mom and I even made “mashed potatoes” using cauliflower on Thanksgiving and they were delicious AND low carb. :)

    I recently started adding apples and popcorn back into my diet though because I missed them so much. It’s funny; I didn’t miss bread or pasta at all, I just wanted my Michigan apples back in my life. I also added more carbs because I think I was sometimes having rebound highs from placing too much restriction on my carbs–don’t know if this was truly the case. I’ve been fiddling around with my basals, my I:C ratio and my sensitivity though since my schedule changes from day-to-day so I’m still having some issues.

    It’s a work in process. I’m still trying to get the hang of it! But I like how it makes me feel. I have heart disease in my family history too though so I do get worried sometimes about how much fat I’m consuming…

  3. Monica

    Man. Totally relate to this dilemma. Not from the standpoint of heart disease, necessarily, but simply overall health. I’ve finally been reading Dr. Bernstein, and while I hear where he’s coming from in terms of even blood sugars, he also recommends a lot of things I feel really iffy about: sugar substitutes, tons of fake food. I’ve never trusted the stuff, though I’m this very moment eating a serving of sugar-free peach jello. (shrug.)

    With respect to a high fat diet, I’m inclined to believe the research that says heart disease is more a result of body fat and cholesterol (which as we know are more likely a result of carbohydrates and insulin), rather than dietary fat and cholesterol.

    On the other hand, my own personal experience with high-fat, high-protein, low-carb (which I keep dutifully trying to do)… is not very good. I tend to not feel full, I feel heavy and kind of peckish. The best I’ve EVER felt was when I tried a raw vegetarian diet for a few weeks. My blood sugars were actually pretty reasonable as well, even eating quite a bit of fruit. But it’s hard to maintain that kind of diet, especially in the winter, especially when there are two of us, and husband–will never.

    So–I don’t know! But I am grateful to know there are others out there struggling with the same issues. I’ve been feeling lately like I wish I had someone to consult with, a nutrition expert, for every meal of the day, to talk to, give me feedback, weigh the pros and cons of every food choice, because at the moment I feel very lost. sigh. Thanks for this post and my apologies for the long ramble.

  4. Laura

    Thank you for your posts on this. I totally value your opinion, which is why I asked you! You make excellent points. I have got to finish Dr. Berstein’s book. I like what you said in part 2. I think that’s the opinion of low carb eating I am leaning towards. It just makes a lot of sense. I need to think and experiment more. Thanks for the input. :-) I so appreciate this blog. Soooo appreciate it.

  5. Nathan

    I’m not a girl, but I found you through the diabetes resource page and thought I’d check out your blog. I like what I see and totally agree with your experience with eating low-carb to manage blood glucose levels. I couldn’t do it any other way. I’m super happy you are getting this information out there. It’s much safer and healthier than the high-carb high insulin option. I think the “rule of small numbers” is the missing link in most of the mysteries associated with diabetes.

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  7. Jennifer G

    I don’t know from a Type 1 perspective how a low carb diet will work or not work. But I know as a pregnant Type 2, a low carb diet is “saving my bacon” so to speak. Keeping my carbs (including fruits/veg/milk) at no more than 30 g per meal and/or snack is keeping me off insulin right now. I cannot drop lower than that because I begin spilling ketones in my urine and that is most definitely not advisable during pregnancy. I am hoping that after the baby is born that I can increase my carbs somewhat. Because I am afraid this will be difficult (and expensive) to maintain indefinitely.

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