Protein and diabetes reversal: Understanding the link

The latest ongoing study, published in the journal Diabetes Care, by the Indian Council of Medical Research-India Diabetes (ICMR-INDIAB) suggested an increase in protein intake to 20 per cent to manage Type-2 diabetes or even reverse the condition, if freshly diagnosed. As such, can protein really help reverse or manage this metabolic condition?

Explaining, Dr Aditya Chowti, Senior Consultant- Internal Medicine, Fortis Hospital, Cunningham Road said that protein plays an important role in the management of diabetes. “It is an essential nutrient found in our body. We use protein for growth maintenance, energy, and a lot of chemical reactions. Most importantly, our muscles are made of protein. In diabetes, there’s significant muscle loss. Hence, it is crucial to have a balanced diet that includes a good amount of protein,” he told

Agreeing, Dr Priyanka Rohatgi, Chief Clinical Dietician, Apollo Hospitals, Bangalore said that increased protein intake is linked to controlled blood glucose levels and lowered HBA1c. This is because protein “increases the insulin response without spiking blood glucose levels”. “Several studies have shown that protein helps to blunt the glycemic index of a meal and therefore prevents post-prandial blood glucose surge,” she added.

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Alluding to other studies, the dietitian mentioned that if protein consumption is 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,” Dr Rohatgi explained.

Another way proteins help aid the health of diabetics is by boosting their immunity which is often compromised. “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. Also regulates sugar fluctuations in blood,” she added.

Too much protein also can be a little harmful, especially if the diabetic has kidney problems (Source: Pixabay)

However, to say that protein can reverse diabetes is not right, stressed Dr Chowti. “The concept of diabetes reversal is gaining a lot of importance nowadays. But to say that protein is responsible for it is not right. It is also important to consume the right amount and type of protein. Get what you need from low-fat protein sources such as lean meat, poultry fish, and low-fat or no-fat dairy products. Vegetarian protein sources include tofu, beans, cheese, nuts, etc. The white of the egg is a natural and a very rich source of protein that can be included in the diet,” he said.

How much is too much?

Like everything else, excessive consumption of protein may be harmful to one’s health. “This can be harmful especially if the diabetic has kidney problems. They need to limit the intake as excessive protein intake may cause kidney damage,” Dr Chowti said, adding that being a diabetic, “you need to make sure that all the parameters are in check, especially the ones about your kidney”.

Sharing that one needs 0.8-1.0 gm of protein per kg of weight, Dr Rohatgi mentioned that as our bodies are used to assimilating a specific amount, “sudden and abnormally high intake may be difficult to digest and one may experience bloating, discomfort and unnecessary load on kidneys”.

Dos and don’ts

“Plant and animal proteins are two sources of proteins. When it comes to protein, you can choose from a variety of plant and animal sources. Trim visible fat from meat or poultry and use a low-fat cooking method, such as roasting and boiling,” she added, sharing some dos and don’ts to follow while opting for a protein-rich diet.

Plant and animal proteins are two sources of proteins (Source: Getty Images/Thinkstock)

Do: Opt for skinless chicken, fish, rajma, moong, soya beans, and lean-cut meats instead of red meats. Try to include some plant-based protein sources such as beans, nuts, or tofu. These will provide you with the fibre and nutrients that animal-based proteins lack.

Don’t: Avoid eating fatty cuts of meat and processed or frozen meat. Avoid Dairy products, milk and milk products are a tricky subject for diabetics, as they are loaded with extra calories and saturated fats that raise LDL or bad cholesterol levels.

Do: Go for unflavored, low-fat curd, milk and paneer. This will give you protein, calcium, vitamins, and minerals with every serving.

Don’t: Say no to full-fat dairy products. Remember, diabetes increases your risk of heart disease, and the extra fat is just going to contribute to plaque buildup.

Dr Chowti concluded by saying, “Don’t take a heavy protein-rich diet. Take professional help to know the right amount of protein. Don’t even suddenly stop your protein intake. The right amount of protein is essential.”

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