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How Much Protein Should a Diabetic Eat?

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Updated February 17, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Protein is an essential macronutrient (large nutrient; the other two are fat and carbohydrate) that your body needs to build, repair and maintain most of your body's tissues and organs. Proteins are also necessary for immune system function, and they help a number of additional physiological processes. Usually, diabetics don't need any more protein than people who don't have diabetes, and there are times when less protein is better.

Daily Protein Intake

As long as your kidneys are healthy, about 15 - 20 percent of your daily calories should come from protein, which is the same amount suggested for a regular balanced diet. For a person who needs 2,000 calories per day, that comes out to about 75 to 100 grams protein per day.

About 45 to 50 percent of your caloric intake should come from carbohydrates, and the balance comes from fat. Foods that are high in protein include meat, fish, fish and seafood, chicken, eggs, dairy products, legumes, nuts and seeds.

For example:

  • One-half chicken breast has 29 grams protein
  • One cup black beans has 15 grams protein
  • An egg has 6 grams protein
  • One cup low-fat milk has 8 grams protein
  • A 3-ounce portion of steak has 26 grams protein

High Protein Diets and Diabetes

Switching to a high-protein diet may seem like it should make a difference in blood sugar regulation, but the protein probably doesn't help much at all, at least for the long term. According to an evidence review done by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, increasing protein intake doesn't appear to have any appreciable impact on how your sugar is digested or absorbed, and it doesn't have any long-term effects on your blood sugar or insulin requirements.

So if a diabetic switches to a high-protein diet, any therapeutic benefit is probably due to the concurrent reduction and closer regulation of carbohydrate consumption, not to specific intake of protein (learn more about the consistent carbohydrate diet).

People who have diabetic nephropathy, which is a kidney disease related to diabetes, often need to eat less protein. In this case, the recommended protein intake is about one gram (or less) per kilogram of body weight.

If you have diabetic nephropathy, you'll need to work with your health care provider to determine how much protein you need each day. Too much protein might be bad for your kidneys, but too little protein intake could lead to malnutrition and unintended weight loss.

If you have questions about your diet and preventing or managing diabetes, speak with your health care provider, a certified diabetes educator, or a dietitian or nutritionist who specializes in medical nutrition therapy for diabetics.

Sources:

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Evidence Analysis Library. "Recommendations Summary: Diabetes Mellitus (DM): Protein and Diabetes." Accessed July 6, 2013. http://andevidencelibrary.com.

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Evidence Analysis Library. "What is the relationship between glycemic index and metabolic outcomes in persons with type 1 and type 2 diabetes?" Accessed July 6, 2013. http://andevidencelibrary.com.

Maher AK. "Simplified Diet Menu." Eleventh Edition, Hoboken NJ, USA: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, October 2011.

United States Department of Agriculture. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 25. Accessed July 6, 2013. http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list.

 

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