Diabetes & Protein

When it comes to nutrition and diabetes, there is so much mis-information out there it is quite staggering. One of the key questions I see with Type 1 diabetics when it comes to diet is how much protein should they be eating?

Diabetes is a constant life-long lesson.

One of the first things that diabetics are taught when we’re first diagnosed is how we have to alter their diet to suit. We’re instantly introduced to carb-counting as simple and complex carbohydrates release varying rates of glucose into the body. However, very little is usually spoken about to begin with when it comes to protein.

There are three main macronutrients (four if you include alcohol). Protein, carbohydrates and fat. Carbs are non-essential (we can live without them if needs be) but they have a wide array of incredible benefits to the human body. Protein and fats are essential to how our body works and functions.

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Opinions vary on how much protein people should eat per day but the general agreed amounts are:

  • 0.8-1g per kilo bodyweight for sedentary populations.
  • 1.2-1.8g per kilo bodyweight for athletes or those who train regularly (i.e. exercise 3-4 times a week).
  • 1.8-2.4g per kilo bodyweight for resistance trained athletes (including rugby players or similar).

We now understand that for diabetics if protein is ingested without the presence of a carbohydrate source in a meal then this does cause blood sugars to rise. Approximately 50% of the protein consumed can be converted into glucose if this is the case (for example a whey protein shake with zero added carbs, or a chicken breast/ steak/ pork chop without rice, potato etc.). This is why diabetics who adopt a ketogenic/ low-carb diet may still see a rise in blood sugars if they are unaware of this reaction. If you follow this diet approach, it’s therefore a good idea to count the amount of grams of protein, take roughly half that amount and use your bolus/ meal-time/ rapid insulin as if it was a carbohydrate and see how you get on.

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If a moderate amount of carbohydrates are added to a meal, then this has a sparing effect which means that the protein consumed is used for other bodily functions rather than supplying the body with glucose, such as bodily growth, muscular repair and hormonal function. Therefore, it is usually a good idea to have some form of carb with your protein at meal times. Protein is an essential macro-nutrient and is a fantastic one to utilise for fat loss and muscle building – it shouldn’t be used to make our condition any more difficult.

Diabetes usually gets a lot of negative column inches in the media and as such there’s a lot of poorly researched information out there on what diabetes can and cannot eat.

As diabetics, we have to be mindful of our nutrition. Protein ingestion in itself does not cause kidney damage if your kidneys are already healthy, however chronically high blood glucose levels can. Therefore, if you do suffer from kidney damage a high protein intake starts to have a negative effect on our bodies and it may be a good idea to speak with your dietician if a low-protein diet would be a good idea.

It’s a very good idea to find varying ways of getting protein into your diet.

Chicken, beef, fish, lentils, beans, eggs, diary. If you’re a vegan or a vegetarian, then we have to be mindful of making sure that you’re getting adequate protein and amino acids into the diet.

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When it comes to protein powder, whey protein can sometimes get a bad rep in the media. But the truth of it is, whey is just derived from diary and is one of the best quality sources of protein available. When it comes to buying whey protein or any time of protein bar, make sure you do your research. Supplementation is ALWAYS the last 5% of anyone’s diet once real food is the other 95%. Nutritional labels are key, especially the “of which sugars” underneath the carbohydrates line. Many off-the-shelf protein bars aren’t much better than regular sweets or chocolate bars just with a bit of added protein so it’s always a good idea to look around, ask someone who is qualified what they would recommend and why before spending your hard-earned money.

If you’d like any additional information regarding diabetes and protein, please leave your question below and I’ll do my very best to answer!

Until next time.

Dan

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Dan has been a Type 1 Diabetic for over 5 years and writes about his experiences with Type 1, nutrition, exercise and living an overall healthier life with diabetes on his blog and via his social media platforms.

2 thoughts on “Diabetes & Protein

  1. This is probably the most beneficial article I have read in quite some time. I have been diabetic since 2007 and up till about a year ago, I really didn’t care. So, I am now on insulin and having trouble losing weight. I decided to try the low carb, high protein diet to A) get off insulin, as I was theorizing that insulin enhanced natural insulin and B) weight loss. I am on a strict 1200 calorie diet with daily 1 hour cardio followed by strength training. I am still struggling with balance. I WANT to not need insulin, but, I just can’t seem to find that balance. Advice is quite welcome.

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    1. Thank you Lynn! Glad you liked it. My advice would be: why 1200 calories? Calorie requirements are based on height, weight, gender and activity levels per week – so being on too few calories could be seeing a detrimental effect on your weight loss goals, especially with 1 hour of cardio and strength training every day – 1200 seems very low, in fact it’ll probably be slowly down your metabolism so much that you’ll probably be seeing the opposite of what you’re after. If you are Type 1 then it will be very difficult to be completely insulin free or are you Type 2? My advice would be to use an online calorie calculator using the Harris Benedict equation to find your BMR alongside a TDEE factor (total daily energy expenditure) and that will show how many calories you should be on to maintain and then reduce by 20% and go from there. Anything else, email me and we can discuss! 🙂

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