Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food. ...Hippocrates
Where we stand
Based on our examination of current evidence, we find concerns about LoCHO diets to be unsubstantiated and we see no problem in recommending them, at least as a means of caloric reduction. Of course, reducing calories by removing fat is universally agreed on as beneficial but the real question is which should be the priority. We believe from the evidence presented here that replacing fat with carbohydrate is deleterious and caloric restriction should be carried out by removing carbohydrate in preference to removing fat. Although calorie counting is not recommended by various popular LoCHO diets, we routinely remind our patients to avoid excess calorie intake. Also, because restriction of carbohydrates may limit intake of certain vitamins and minerals, supplementation with multivitamin supplements including calcium is a usual recommendation with LoCHO diets. Since high fiber intake has been inversely associated with CVD [37,88], patients should be encouraged to increase fiber intake and should receive fiber supplements if necessary.
As for VLCKD where carbohydrate restriction is targeted to 20–30 gm/day at least for two weeks, we consider this an extreme change for most people and therefore we would not recommend it without substantial evidence from clinical trials is provided as to the benefits of this extreme dietary intervention.
Low Carbohydrate diet and the current guidelines for diabetes management
Traditionally, a low fat high carbohydrate diet containing 55–70 % carbohydrates, 15–20% proteins and 20–30% fats has been recommended by various health organizations [33-35] for subjects at high risk of CVD including those with diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Despite accumulating evidence suggesting deleterious effects of high carbohydrate diet and potential benefits of carbohydrate restriction, LoCHO diet have met with increased resistance and have not been accorded its deserved place in various treatment guidelines.
The current position statement of the American Diabetes Association (ADA), however, recognizes the importance of amount of dietary carbohydrates: "With regard to the glycemic effects of carbohydrates, the total amount of carbohydrate in meals or snacks is more important than the source or the type". This organization also agrees with role of carbohydrate restriction as stated "In weight maintaining diets for type 2 diabetes, replacing carbohydrates with monounsaturated fats reduces post prandial glycemia and triglyceridemia" and recommends that "carbohydrates and monounsaturated fat together should provide 60–70% of the energy intake and the relative contributions of carbohydrate and monounsaturated fats to energy intake should be individualized". This can be considered as a nod of approval for carbohydrate restriction though no specific recommendation has been made. Furthermore, the ADA's recommendation of individualization according to patient's risk may provide the much needed flexibility for adjusting the carbohydrate content according to the patient's requirement . This gradual adoption of carbohydrate restriction is also reflected by a recent statement from ADA limiting dietary carbohydrate intake to provide 45–65% of the calories  which is less than previously recommended.
Low carbohydrate diet compares more favorably, at least over the short term, to traditional low fat for improving glycemic control, insulin sensitivity and dyslipidemia of diabetes with reduction in triglycerides, increase in HDL cholesterol and modification of LDL to less atherogenic form. The need of the hour is to accept the benefits of carbohydrate restriction with reservation and to establish guidelines for its use, especially emphasizing use of mono and polyunsaturated fats as the way to achieve caloric balance since these have been inversely linked with CVD risk in various studies. In the mean time, clinical trials need to be conducted using graded levels of carbohydrate restriction and fat intake, with special emphasis on unsaturated fats, to examine their effects of on weight loss, glycemic control, insulin resistance and CVD risk. This is to resolve the present controversy about optimal dietary option for patients with diabetes.
SA conducted literature search, prepared the manuscript and helped in presentation of final draft, SIM conceived the idea, organized the contents and helped in the preparation and presentation of final manuscript.
Surender K Arora and Samy I McFarlane
Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Hypertension, SUNY Downstate Medical Center, and Kings County Hospital Center, Brooklyn, NY 11203 NY 11203, USA
Nutrition & Metabolism 2005, 2:16 doi:10.1186/1743-7075-2-16
© 2005 Arora and McFarlane; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.