Benefits of protein in diet for diabetics

Health, according to the World Health Organization, is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity”.[1] A variety of definitions have been used for different purposes over time. Health can be promoted by encouraging healthful activities, such as regular physical exercise and adequate sleep,[2] and by reducing or avoiding unhealthful activities or situations, such as smoking or excessive stress. Some factors affecting health are due to individual choices, such as whether to engage in a high-risk behavior, while others are due to structural causes, such as whether the society is arranged in a way that makes it easier or harder for people to get necessary healthcare services. Still other factors are beyond both individual and group choices, such as genetic disorders.

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Diabetes is a lifestyle disease and a healthy diet is a key to managing it. An expert reveals that a protein-rich diet can manage diabetes like no other.

Diabetes is on the rise worldwide and India is facing an impending diabetes tsunami ranking second in the number of people with diabetes in the world. One in six adults with diabetes in the world is from India. Even more alarming is the fact that India leads in the number of people undiagnosed with diabetes with 43.9 million adults being unaware of their diabetes status. Grappling with the Covid-19 situation for the past several months, India is staring at a huge epidemic of obesity and diabetes. Since the majority of people have been homebound, it has led to decreased physical activity, increased calorie consumption coupled with irregular sleep patterns, and increased stress levels.

Nutrition is the cornerstone of diabetes management. However, during the festive season, when indulgent foods beckon at every corner, it becomes challenging to manage nutrition and stick to a healthy meal plan. This can lead to blood sugar fluctuations that need to be managed well. Mindful eating can go a long way in helping one plan the meals and choose the right foods that will not cause greater blood glucose fluctuations.

protein for diabetics
Want to keep your diabetes in check? Try protein. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Dietary strategies should mainly focus on reducing the consumption of refined carbohydrates and including more complex carbohydrates and fiber in the diet. However, another macronutrient which deserves attention when it comes to diabetes management is protein. 

How can eating protein help to manage diabetes?

Protein is a highly versatile macronutrient and has several important roles to play in our daily life. Here’s how protein is beneficial:

  1. It forms the fundamental basis of structure and function in the body. 
  2. Proteins are indispensable as they make up the framework of body defense systems, antibodies, enzymes, and hormones. 
  3. Right from keeping us fit and active to helping our bodies recover, it is a protein that keeps us going. 

Other than playing a key role in bodily processes, protein also has other benefits for people with diabetes

  1. Increased protein intake can help in controlling blood glucose levels and lowering HBA1c. 
  2. It increases the insulin response without spiking blood glucose levels. 
  3. Several studies have shown that protein helps to blunt the glycemic index of a meal and therefore prevents post-prandial blood glucose surge. 
  4. Studies have also shown that if you eat protein first followed by carbohydrates or starch, the post-meal blood glucose levels are better. For example, if you have chicken, fish, paneer or dal first followed by rice or chapati, the post-meal blood glucose level could be reduced. 
  5. Proteins also have a key role in improving immunity which is compromised in individuals with diabetes. 
  6. Another advantage of protein is that it provides good satiety and helps in hunger control and therefore can have a beneficial effect on weight management.
protein for diabetics
Consuming protein powder can help you get fit! Image courtesy: Shutterstock

However, several surveys have shown that Indian diets are predominantly low in protein with 9 out of 10 Indians consuming a diet deficient in protein which is surely a matter of concern. 93% of the Indian population is unaware about the daily protein requirements and this definitely needs to change. 

How much protein should you consume in a day?

Average requirement of a healthy adult is 0.83 g of protein per kg body weight per day. For example, if the body weight of a sedentary or moderately active person is 60 kg, he/she will require 50-55g protein per day on an average. The requirement will be more in case a person is into intensive exercise or is recovering from any illness. 

In case a person is having diabetes with a renal complication involved, the requirement of protein may be lower or higher depending on the stage of kidney disease and whether the person is on conservative management or on dialysis.

Uncontrolled diabetes when coupled with a low protein diet can lead to loss of muscle mass and a weakened immune system, hence efforts must be made to ensure the consumption of good quality protein in adequate amounts. 

How to increase your protein intake?

Protein intake can be increased by incorporating protein rich-foods such as eggs, lean meat, fish, curd, buttermilk, paneer, sprouts, dal, soybean, soy chunks, soy granules, nuts in the meals. 

Apart from consuming the right quantity of protein, emphasis must be laid on including good quality protein in our meals. Dairy products, egg, chicken, fish, and soya are complete sources of proteins. 

While vegetarian sources such as legumes, dals, and nuts are incomplete proteins i.e. these sources do not provide all the nine essential amino acids (basic units of protein) in the amounts needed by the body. 

protein for diabetics
These vegetarian protein sources are perfect for vegans. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

To obtain good quality proteins and all the nine essential amino acids, one needs to combine these protein sources appropriately such as Dals/Grains + Nuts/Seeds, like Grains + Dals. Legumes/Grains + Dairy. E.g. foods like Khichdi, curd rice, milk kheer etc. 

Besides complementing proteins, to get good quality and quantity of protein in the diet, vegetarians can meet these requirements by consuming adequate amounts of dairy products like curd/yogurt and cottage cheese (paneer). 


People having diabetes must aim to include a good source of protein in every meal to blunt the glucose response of the meal. A wholesome, balanced and nutritious diet with emphasis on protein and other essential nutrients can help in improving the glycemic control along with developing a strong immune system and a favorable body composition and improve the overall quality of life. These simple choices can go a long way in keeping the blood sugar levels under control, while helping the persons enjoy the festive season to the fullest.

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