How eating protein affects blood sugar

By Nazirber De La Cruz

How eating protein affects blood sugar

One of the main components of maintaining normal blood glucose levels in people living with diabetes is consuming nutritiously balanced meals. A balanced meal should contain three macro-nutrients which are nutrients that provide us with energy. Carbohydrates, proteins and fats are the three macro-nutrients that exist.

While the human body processes each macro-nutrient differently and each plays a role in how fast glucose is absorbed in the body, carbs have the greatest effect on blood sugar. That’s because your body breaks down carbs into sugar, which enters your bloodstream. The exception to this is fiber, a non-digestible carb that can slow down the absorption of sugar into the blood.

Eating meals thought the day with a mix of proteins, carbs and fat can help people with diabetes to:

  • Have a constant source of energy
  • Be less likely to get so hungry that you overeat when you finally have a meal
  • Be able to control your weight better because you're not tempted to overeat
  • It can help you keep your blood sugar in a normal range

How the body breaks down protein

Although proteins are broken down similarly to carbohydrates, they have different effects on blood glucose levels. Protein breakdown begins in the stomach where they are broken down into smaller substances and reach the intestines where they are broken down further into amino acids.

In the liver, some amino acids are converted to glucose while others are used to make protein again or for muscle cells. Recent studies indicate that  amino acids in persons with or without diabetes increases gluconeogenesis (the creation of sugar by the liver), but amino acids don’t increase how fast sugar is released by the liver. In other words, eating protein has an insignificant effect on blood glucose levels.

Protein and Insulin

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas to help breakdown and use food for energy throughout the body. Insulin helps amino acids in protein enter the body cells and influence muscle function. According to several studies, protein has a minimal effect on blood glucose levels if adequate insulin is available. With adequate insulin, the blood glucose response in persons with diabetes would be expected to be like the blood glucose response in persons without diabetes.

Proteins sources in the diet

Here are some proteins found in the diet. Persons with diabetes should continue following the dietary guidelines for diabetes, such as consuming complex carbohydrates, lean sources of proteins and sources of monounsaturated fat. For an individualized plan, follow up with your dietitian and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist.

Plant-based proteins

Animal proteins

·         Beans

·         Hummus and falafel

·         Lentils

·         Peas

·         Edamame

·         Soy nuts

·         Nuts and spreads like almond butter, cashew butter, or peanut butter

·         Tempeh

·         Tofu

 

·         Beef

·         Pork

·         Veal

·         Lamb

·         Chicken

·         Turkey

·         Hen

·         Fish

·         Cheese

·         Eggs

 

The ADA has a full listing of common foods and drinks and how they’ll affect your diabetes diet.

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Orignially published on April 28, 2020, updated on April 28, 2020

Topic: Diabetes Management

Nazirber De La Cruz

About Nazirber De La Cruz

Nazirber De La Cruz, RDN, CDN, CDE, is a bilingual Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator. She graduated from the City University of New York in 2011 and completed her integrative medicine fellowship and became a Certified Diabetes Educator in 2018. Follow her on Instagram at @myfitbytes, on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/nazirberdelacruz and on her website www.myfitbytes.com.