In recent years, high-protein diets have become really popular. These diets claim to offer greater weight loss, better blood sugar control, and less hunger than other types of diets. It’s tempting for people with diabetes to try them, since they seem to offer so many positive results. But how appropriate are these high-protein diets for people with diabetes?
The Connection: High-Protein Diet and Weight
Supporters of high-protein diets argue that eating fewer carbs (glucose) means your body will need to make less insulin. Therefore, they say, fewer carbs eaten = less insulin made = less glucose storage as fat = less weight gain.
They also claim that limiting carbohydrates forces the body to use fat for energy – a process known as ketogenesis – which leads to weight loss. Additionally, since protein and fat both take longer to digest than carbohydrates, a high-protein diet will make you will feel fuller longer and be less likely to overeat in between meals.
What is a High-Protein Diet?
A high-protein diet involves eating some type of protein-rich food – like beef, poultry, pork, seafood, eggs or dairy – at every meal. Many of the meal plans advicse up to 8-10 ounces of protein at a sitting (versus the standard recommendation of 2-3 ounces/meal). High-protein diets do not restrict calories from fat. Plus, fat intake may naturally increase since many high-protein foods (like meat and nuts) can be high in fat. Foods like fruits, vegetables, and starches – which all contain carbohydrates – are limited, or even temporarily eliminated in some cases. Caffeine and water are allowed, but non-diet beverages like juice and milk are not part of the meal plan.
Is a High-Protein Diet Appropriate for People with Diabetes?
Although some research has found high protein diets to be beneficial for people living with diabetes, long-term studies have not been done. What healthcare professionals know is that too much protein can burden the kidneys, which is a big concern for people with diabetes. Another concern is the extended absence of carbohydrates from the diet. Carbohydrates are the preferred choice of fuel for the body. They provide energy and necessary nutrients, and are a good source of fiber too!
The Bottom Line
Some studies have found that short-term weight loss and better blood glucose control have been possible for people with diabetes who follow a high-protein diet. However, at the moment there is not adequate information available about the long-term effects of following a high-protein diet.
The American Diabetes Association recommends that people with diabetes who do not have kidney disease get 15-20% of their calories from protein. This is about the same amount of protein that is recommended for people without diabetes. Individual meal plans should be reviewed with a registered dietitian or other healthcare provider to best meet each individual’s weight loss and blood sugar goals.
Sejal is a registered dietitian, a certified diabetes educator and she holds a masters degree in nutrition and health. Sejal was the project coordinator for the Veteran’s Administrations (VA) national weight loss program and previously worked for the VA hospital in Tampa, FL as a Spinal Cord Injury dietitian.
Sejal has had numerous clinical and community education experiences, including pediatric and intensive care nutrition support. She has also had the opportunity to teach nutrition courses at the community college level to students interested in pursuing health professions. One of her favorite areas of education is diabetes management.