Protein and Diabetes

Protein helps the body to create new cell tissue
Protein helps the body to create new cell tissue

Protein is one of the three main energy providing macronutrients, along with carbohydrate and fat. It helps the body to grow new tissue, therefore helping to build muscle and repair damage to the body.

Protein is also a constituent part of each cell of our bodies and makes up approximately a sixth of our body weight.

Protein and blood glucose

In addition to helping the body grow, protein can also be broken down by the body into glucose and used for energy (a process known as gluconeogenesis).

Protein can be broken down into glucose by the body and the effects are more likely to be noticed if you are having meals with less carbohydrate.

Protein is broken down into glucose less efficiently than carbohydrate and, as a result, any effects of protein on blood glucose levels tend to occur any where between a few hours and several hours after eating.

People with type 1 diabetes, or type 2 diabetes on insulin, may need to bear the effects of protein in mind if having a largely protein based meal. It’s best to learn how your sugar levels react to such meals so that you can judge the right insulin requirements.

How much protein should I be eating?

The UK Food Standards Agency has a sliding scale for recommended protein intake, varying by age:

  • 1 to 3 years: 15g
  • 4 to 6 years: 20g
  • 7 to 10 years: 28g
  • 11 to 14 years: 42g
  • 15 to 18 years: 55g
  • 19 to 50 years: 55g
  • Over 50 years: 53g

Some diets, such as the Zone diet, advocate eating an amount of protein in proportion to your lean body mass (body weight minus body fat).

Can protein be bad for you?

A number of studies have found there to be correlations between intake of red meat and the development of type 2 diabetes and cancers (including lung cancer liver cancer and notably bowel cancer).

The studies found that if people were consuming processed red meat the chances of developing these illnesses were significantly higher.

Having a particular excess of protein in the diet, particularly in combination with alcohol, could potentially lead to problems such as gout.

Although red meat has been linked with health problems, the increase in risk is not so great to advise people to avoid it altogether.

However, looking for good quality, fresh red meat rather than processed meat is recommended.

Protein and kidney damage

Kidney damage (diabetic nephropathy) is a complication that can affect as many as 40% people with diabetes. Kidney damage in diabetes can be diagnosed by testing for ketones - the presence of protein in the patient’s urine.

People with diabetes who have, or are at risk of, kidney damage may be advised to lower their consumption of protein.

Which foods containing protein are best to eat?

Oily fish and lean meats, such as skinless chicken and turkey, are often recommended for a diabetic diet.

As noted above, with red meat, it’s best to look for fresh and unprocessed cuts where possible. Another good source of protein is vegetable protein as found in beans and other legumes. Nuts are another good source of protein.

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