Diabetes: Could a low carb diet be the answer and is it doable?

Could a low carb diet for diabetes be the answer to stable blood sugar levels? We investigate if this lifestyle change is the answer.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not just “sugary items” that lead to blood sugar spikes. A high unrefined carb diet may also lead to diabetes. Could a low carb diet for diabetes be the solution to the number one killer of women in South Africa, and the second leading cause of death in men, according to Stats SA?

One in two people with diabetes are undiagnosed, according to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF, 2019).

Two in three people in SA are at risk of prediabetes, according to the SA Demographic and Health Survey.

With that in mind and World Diabetes Day taking place on November 14, the Diabetes Alliance, in partnership with the University of Pretoria Diabetes Research Centre, will be presenting the first ever South African Diabetes Summit on Wednesday, 10 November.

Included in this panel will be Bridget McNulty from the Sweet Life – a community for people with diabetes which includes experts and sufferers of the disease – and the Diabetes Alliance.

Low carb for diabetes

According to McNulty, a low carb diet for diabetes is definitely a good idea for maintaining more stable blood sugar levels, but each person is unique and carbs affect them differently.

“Unfortunately there is no one answer to maintaining good blood sugar! Low carb is an umbrella term for a wide range of different diets. There’s low carb high fat, low carb high protein, Banting, strict low carb and more. Lower carb is definitely a good idea for maintaining more stable blood sugar levels, because carbs increase blood sugar, but each person is unique and can eat a different amount of carbs. “

ALSO READ: Daily hacks: Quick weight-loss tips you need to know ahead of summer

Getting your plate right for diabetes

“The most important thing is to focus on healthy food as the basis of your meals – everyone is in agreement that refined, processed carbs (fast food, junk food, sweets, cookies, cakes, chips etc) are terrible for your diabetes – and your health,” says McNulty.

She adds: “Our advice is to fill half a plate with green, leafy vegetables at lunch and dinner. Then you can either fill the other half with a small portion of wholegrain carbs / some fruit, if that works for you, or just with protein.”

Is low carb doable?

According to Sweet Life community member Michael Manerwick, low carb diet for diabetes is doable with good planning: “Again, with good planning it’s entirely possible to remove unwanted carbs from your diet. Those who are rigid will count their carb intake and that’s really admirable. But I feel this kind of rigidity can put people off. I personally don’t count my carbs but I do eat very little refined carbs – lots of veg for me. Often, I will simply eat a meal without the carbs: curry without rice, bolognaise without pasta.”

Low carb diet for diabetes pantry

So, where do you begin if you are starting a low carb diet for diabetes? First things first, you need to ensure your pantry is stocked with the right foods and snacks so that you do not get hungry throughout the day which can also drive up your sugar readings.

Sweet Life’s low carb eating plans include the following as per its dietician, Keri Strachen: “Buy basic food ingredients and cook from scratch and you are unlikely to be fooled into hidden carbs sneaking in.”

Here’s a basic list:


  • Meat (beef, pork, lamb)
  • Fish (especially omega-3 rich such as sardines, pilchards, salmon, fresh tuna, salmon, trout)
  • Free-range eggs
  • Cheese
  • Chicken

Vegetables and fruit

  • Low carb veggies, excluding butternut, all potatoes, peas and corn
  • Low carb nutrient dense fruit such as berries


  • Full-cream milk
  • Full or double-cream plain yoghurt (but in limited amount due to natural carb content)

Nuts and seeds

  • Almonds
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Walnuts
  • Pecans
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Linseeds
  • Sesame seeds

Natural fats

  • Olive oil (not for cooking)
  • Olives
  • Avocado
  • Macadamia nut oil
  • Coconut oil and cream
  • Cream
  • Butter
  • Lard (no vegetable oils)

Other items:

  • Olives
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Tomato paste
  • Almond flour and coconut flour (but avoid replica foods too often, they are not as low carb as you think)
  • Stevia, erythritol (but try to avoid sweetness)
  • Cocoa
  • Coconut flakes/ desiccated coconut
  • Salt
  • Pure herbs and spices e.g. paprika, turmeric, cayenne pepper, cumin, rosemary, basil, thyme, parsley
  • Vinegar
  • Mayonnaise made from non-vegetable oil e.g. macadamia, avocado
  • Fresh herbs (rocket, basil, origanum)

For a treat because you are human after all! McNulty recommends:

  • Gullon sugar free biscuits
  • NOMU skinny hot chocolate
  • SWEETLY sugar substitute
  • SWEETLY chocodrink
  • Nuun electrolytes

Diabetes is not a death sentence

Adds McNulty, diabetes is definitely not a one way ticket to an early death!

“Type 2 diabetes is reversible if it is diagnosed early enough. Thereafter it is manageable with lifestyle changes, weight loss and exercise, and after that with medication (tablets and then insulin). Type 1 diabetes is not reversible, but it is possible to live a happy, healthy life with Type 1 diabetes if you look after yourself, take your medication, eat healthy, exercise – all the things we should all be doing! Nobody should ever die from diabetes.”

Always consult your doctor when changing your diet.

This video is no longer available.

Read more on these topics

diabetes Health

Access premium news and stories

Access to the top content, vouchers and other member only benefits