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How Does Protein Affect Blood Sugar in Diabetics?

author image Nadia Haris
Nadia Haris is a registered radiation therapist who has been writing about nutrition for more than six years. She is completing her Master of Science in nutrition with a focus on the dietary needs of oncology patients.
How Does Protein Affect Blood Sugar in Diabetics?
Fish is a good source of lean protein to help keep your blood sugar levels stable. Photo Credit TOMIO TAKAHASHI/amanaimagesRF/amana images/Getty Images

Approximately one out of every 10 people in the U.S. has diabetes, a disease that affects how the body uses sugar, also known as glucose. Careful blood glucose control is essential to manage this condition and reduce the risk of complications such as nerve damage, blindness and heart disease. Adding more protein-rich foods to your diet -- and few carbohydrates and fats -- may help balance blood glucose levels.

Improved Blood Glucose Balance

A 2003 study published in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" concluded that a high-protein diet helped lower blood glucose levels after eating and improved overall blood glucose control in people with Type 2 diabetes. Test individuals on the high-protein diet had a ratio of protein to carbohydrates to fat of 30:40:30, compared to 15:55:30 for the control group. Both groups consumed the diet for five weeks. Despite the positive results from this research, longer studies are needed to gauge the long-term effects and any possible adverse effects of a high-protein diet on diabetics.

Direct Effects of Protein

Many protein-rich foods contain minimal or no carbohydrates and only have a small effect on blood sugar levels. These include lean meats, chicken, turkey, fish and eggs. However, you add extra carbohydrates if the protein food is battered, crusted or marinated or you are eating it with sauce. University of Michigan Medicine recommends that a meal should contain a half portion of raw or cooked vegetables such as green beans and squash, a quarter portion of carbohydrate such as whole-grain pasta or brown rice, and a quarter portion -- 3 ounces -- of protein such as lean meat or fish.

Protein and Carbohydrate foods

Protein-rich foods such as legumes and milk and dairy products also contain carbohydrates, which will raise your blood glucose levels considerably. Similarly, most vegetables and fruits contain proteins as well as starchy carbohydrates. The University of Illinois Extension notes that dairy, vegetables and fruit give you about 15 grams of carbohydrates in each serving. Check the nutritional value of processed protein foods; the amount under "Total Carbohydrate" can give you a rough idea of how much it may raise your blood glucose levels.

Protein-rich Diet and Weight Loss

Losing excess weight can help overweight and obese individuals gain better control of their blood glucose levels, but this has not been tested on diabetics. Weight loss can, however, help reduce the risk of diabetes-related complications such as heart disease and stroke. Research published by the American Diabetes Association in 2002 found that a high-protein diet may help people with Type 2 diabetes reduce abdominal fat and lower high cholesterol levels. This study did not show any marked improvement in blood glucose control with the high-protein diet; further research is needed.

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