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Mastering Diabetes: The Impact of Protein on Blood Sugar Levels Explained by a Diabetes Dietitian

Apr 11, 2023

Living with diabetes can be a challenge, but paying attention to protein intake can make it easier to achieve excellent blood sugars and an amazing A1C.

While many people with diabetes focus solely on carbs, protein is critical to the equation, and not paying attention to it can make blood sugar management more difficult.

In this blog post, I will explain why protein is essential and how it can affect blood sugar levels. 

Let’s dive into why protein is essential to consider in the blood sugar equation.

There’s a great story that I often share to help illustrate this point. Once upon a time, I went to a Brazilian steakhouse. If you’ve never been to a Brazilian steakhouse, there are many people coming around to your table with different types of meat and chicken and steak and pork and ALL of the different protein sources.  As someone who was into weight training at the time, I was thrilled to consume as much protein as I wanted in unlimited quantities. However, after eating around two or three pounds of protein, my blood sugars remained fairly steady….until the evening, when I woke up at 430 in the morning with a blood sugar well over 400, despite hardly eating ANY carbs. It was a wake-up call for me that protein is essential in the diabetes space and can significantly affect blood sugar levels. 

Protein, unlike carbohydrates, does not immediately raise blood sugar levels.

It instead takes longer to digest and breaks down into glucose at a slower rate. Because of the slow release of glucose, protein does not cause the same rapid spike in blood sugar that carbs do.

On average, one gram of protein can convert to about 0.58 grams of glucose, which can cause blood sugar levels to rise. For example, 30 grams of protein worth of chicken can potentially convert to 18 grams of carbs. Although chicken has zero carbs, it can convert into carbs because of the protein content.

To manage blood sugar levels most optimally, it's essential to be mindful of protein intake, especially when consuming high-protein foods. For instance, eating a low-carb, high-protein diet can significantly affect blood sugar levels, even if it seems like it shouldn't on the surface. 

Protein is an essential nutrient for people with diabetes.

It can convert into glucose, and consuming high amounts of protein can cause blood sugar levels to spike. Therefore, it's crucial to take protein into account when calculating insulin doses and to monitor blood sugar levels closely after eating a high-protein meal.

By paying attention to protein intake, you can make it easier to achieve excellent blood sugars and an amazing A1C, and live a healthier life with diabetes.


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