I remember a time in my childhood, I was about 7 or 8, when my parents went through a concerted effort to lose weight. Suddenly it was all grapefruit for breakfast, slimming shakes for lunch, and measly salads for dinner.
They did not last long.
These days, they probably wouldn’t have gone for the grapefruit. You see, the biggest diet movement of the last decade is a bit more on the meat side: Low-Carb High-Fat (LCHF). LCHF diets cover the gamut from paleo to keto — short for paleolithic and ketogenic respectively — and basically follow the prescription laid out by Atkins in the 90s except with varying amounts of bone broth and kale.
And now there’s new evidence, reported literally everywhere — from the Guardian to the New York Times — that not only are LCHF diets good for losing weight, they might have a special power: curing diabetes.
This is, of course, total nonsense.
Usually, I spend a lot of time going over the science. I talk about the pros and cons, what it actually means, and why the media might have gotten it a bit wrong.
So here goes.
What was the study?
A scientific survey. A survey of people in a Facebook group who follow LCHF diets, and rate it highly as a method for diabetes control. The researchers asked 316 people who are in a Facebook group dedicated to using LCHF diets to control diabetes whether it helped them control their diabetes, and they responded that it did.
That’s it. THE ENTIRE STUDY.
I could go in depth into the methods, talk about bias, statistics, and control groups but honestly I don’t think it’s necessary. There’s no point going in-depth talking about a survey, because all that surveys prove is that people have opinions. The researchers spent time confirming these opinions, but whether this is just a small, self-selected group or a real phenomenon is yet to be demonstrated.
This was the equivalent of asking a bunch of cyclists if they thought cycling was a good idea, and then printing news headlines screaming: “CYCLING CURES ALL HUMAN DISEASE, SAYS STUDY”.
And this time, it’s not all the media’s fault. Some of the statements made in the study itself by the scientists were pretty unusual — the claim, for example, that people were achieving “exceptional” diabetes control. Since all the researchers had were self-reported before-and-after values for blood sugar, and there are innumerable known issues with asking people questions like this, the conclusion that this diet did anything at all for blood sugar is a wild guess.
Ultimately, this is yet another tedious story where incredibly preliminary findings have been blown out of all proportion.
If you look at the conclusions of the study (above), it’s actually quite easy to see just how useless the study is for making claims about diabetes. The authors spend an entire paragraph hedging about whether their results mean anything at all.
Which anyone who’d read the study would realize.
Sadly, it’s another story of preliminary research being blown out of all proportions by media sources desperate for a story. LCHF diets have been gaining popularity, and there’s some indication that they might be useful for weightloss, but there’s also good evidence that they’re no different from any other type of calorie restriction.
If you’ve got diabetes, don’t listen to the hype. Talk to your doctor, who is a much more reliable source of information about diabetes than sensationalist media pieces.
It turns out, the best diet may just be the one that is best for you.
Not a shock, really.