What foods are good sources of protein if I have diabetes?

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Meat and meat substitutes, such as soy products and cheese, are great sources of protein if you have diabetes. The biggest difference among foods in this group is how much saturated fat and total fat they contain. The best choices are the cuts of meats and meat alternatives that are lower in saturated fat and calories.

Dried beans, legumes, peas and lentils: Try to include dried beans into several meals per week. They are a great source of protein and are loaded with fiber. (Dried beans also count as a starch serving, so don't forget to count the carbohydrate.)

  • Dried beans such as black, lima and pinto
  • Lentils
  • Dried peas such as black-eyed and split
  • Fat-free refried beans
  • Vegetarian baked beans
  • Soy-based "meat" products like meatless "burger" and "chicken nuggets"

Fish and seafood:

  • Catfish, cod, flounder, haddock, halibut herring, orange roughy, salmon, tilapia, trout, tuna, sardines
  • Clams, crab, imitation shellfish, lobster, scallops, shrimp, oysters

Poultry, without skin:

  • Chicken, turkey, Cornish hen

Eggs

Beef, pork, veal, lamb:

  • Select or choice grades of beef trimmed of fat, including chuck, rib, rump roast, round, sirloin, cubed, flank, porterhouse, T-bone steak, tenderloin
  • Beef jerky
  • Lamb chop, leg or roast
  • Organ meats: heart, kidney, liver
  • Veal loin chop or roast
  • Pork: Canadian bacon, center loin chop, ham, tenderloin

Other:

  • Hot dog, sausage or processed sandwich meats with 3 grams of fat or less per ounce: chipped beef, deli thin-sliced meats, turkey ham, turkey kielbasa, turkey pastrami
  • Game: buffalo, dove, duck, goose or pheasant (no skin), ostrich, rabbit, venison
Toby Smithson
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Nuts are helpful in managing diabetes, weight control and heart health. A study, published in the journal, Metabolism, showed that consuming an ounce of almonds before eating a high-starch meal brought a 30 per cent reduction in post-meal glucose levels for patients with type 2 diabetes.

The effect of regular almond consumption on blood glucose levels for people with type 2 diabetes was also investigated, with the daily consumption of one ounce of almonds over a 12-week period being associated with a 4 per cent reduction in hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) and the same reduction in body mass index (BMI).

Another study, which was published in Diabetes Care, revealed that nuts such as almonds could help to maintain healthy levels of blood glucose and cholesterol for both men and post-menopausal women who suffer from type 2 diabetes. Consuming nuts with a meal may also help slow down absorption of carbohydrate in the blood stream.

Beans, seeds and some whole grains like quinoa also serve as plant-based sources of protein, especially for a vegetarian diet, if you have diabetes. A 1/2 cup serving of cooked beans offers 8 grams of protein equal to one ounce of meat and 20 grams of carbohydrate; and 1 cup of cooked quinoa will provide 8 grams of protein and 39 grams of carbohydrates.

If you have diabetes, your daily diet should still include protein (up to 20-30 percent of your total daily caloric intake), but focus on protein sources that are not high in saturated fat.

Vegetarian sources, such as nuts, seeds, legumes and tofu, are great, but you can also eat fish, skinless poultry, some lean cuts of meat and nonfat or low-fat dairy products.

If you have kidney disease along with diabetes, you should consult with your healthcare professional about your recommended protein allowance.

Laura Russell
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

I have found that it is helpful to have at least 7g (1 oz.) of protein per meal. Many people have much more than this, especially at the main meal of the day. Breakfast tends to be low in protein if you are just having cereal or toast. By having at least 7g of protein at each meal, you will feel full longer and it will help keep blood sugar from spiking. 7g (1 oz.) of protein = 1 egg, 2 tbsp. of peanut butter, 1/4 cup cottage cheese, 1 string cheese, 1 oz. of beef, pork, poultry, fish, 1/4 cup of dried beans/legumes, 1 oz. of nuts.

Good plant sources of protein include nuts, seeds, beans, peas, soy, wheat gluten and quorn. Nuts are a highly nutritious and very diabetes-friendly food. However, they also pack a lot of calories in a small amount. If you are concerned about weight gain, be sure to portion out nuts before eating and be aware of the amount of calories you are consuming; pair a small amount of nuts with some fresh fruit or vegetables for a snack, and avoid eating nuts in a distracted manner, such as right out of the bag while reading or watching TV.

Wheat gluten is the tough substance remaining after the flour of wheat or other grain is washed to remove the starch. It has the texture and taste of meat. Quorn is a textured product made from a mushroom-like fungus—you can find it in the freezer section of big-city grocery stores. Microwave or thaw it, then add it to a veggie broth for a quick sauté or use it in a sandwich.

Yogurt can be an excellent source of protein for people with diabetes, but not all yogurts are created equal. Some yogurts have added sugar, which increases the carbohydrate content. In fact, some varieties can contain as much as 43 grams of carbohydrate per serving.

Following a balanced diet and managing diabetes requires planning. Touch base with a registered dietitian to determine the nutritional adequacy of your meal pattern.

Ms. Vandana  R. Sheth
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Enjoy protein at all meals. For example, at breakfast try egg whites or nut butter with whole grain toast, at lunch enjoy a sandwich with lean protein such as chicken/turkey, and at dinner enjoy ~3 oz. of protein along with whole grains and non-starchy vegetables. Also, consider adding a protein serving (1 oz.) with your snack to better control your blood sugar.

Continue Learning about Diabetes

Diabetes

Diabetes mellitus (MEL-ih-tus), often referred to as diabetes, is characterized by high blood glucose (sugar) levels that result from the body’s inability to produce enough insulin and/or effectively utilize the insulin. Diabetes ...

is a serious, life-long condition and the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Diabetes is a disorder of metabolism (the body's way of digesting food and converting it into energy). There are three forms of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that accounts for five- to 10-percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes may account for 90- to 95-percent of all diagnosed cases. The third type of diabetes occurs in pregnancy and is referred to as gestational diabetes. Left untreated, gestational diabetes can cause health issues for pregnant women and their babies. People with diabetes can take preventive steps to control this disease and decrease the risk of further complications.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.