Skip to content
7 Reasons Why A High Protein Diet is Bad for Diabetes Management.

7 Reasons Why A High Protein Diet is Bad for Diabetes Management.

The internet can be confusing. I recently came across the McDonald diet, which basically allowed people to have anything they wanted from McDonalds every single day but eat only one time a day. You had to starve for 23 hours daily. 

Basically goes to say that there is a seller promising infinite health to you with whatever type of food you want to eat.

When it comes to Diabetes, excess fats add to body weight, and carbohydrates directly cause sugar spikes.

In this scenario, protein has always been the go- to nutrient for people with diabetes. Why? It is protein, after all! We know that it helps build lean muscle mass. Also, it does not cause sugar spikes.

But are there any downsides to eating a high- protein diet? Also, does the type of protein you are eating (weather it is coming from animal's or plant's) matter? Is chicken different from paneer or both different from pulses?

Let's explore weather a high- protein diet is beneficial or not for diabetes. Also, if not for proteins, what should one eat?

7 Reasons to Rethink High Protein.

 

We often love to categories food into three sub- groups, namely:

  • Proteins
  • Carbs
  • Fats 

Most people who do not have a background in nutrition do not understand beyond these three terms. But the food group you choose to eat is always a combination of all of the above and never one thing exclusively. Even protein powders you might take in the name of proteins, contain carbs and fats too. 

Sure, foods can be higher in one nutrient and lower in the other. But as a nutritionist, we look at food more holistically. For example, a fruit like pineapple might be low in proteins and higher in carbs, but contains an enzyme called bromelin that boosts the absorption of proteins in the body.

In the name of consuming more proteins, should pineapple then be part of your daily diet?

In this fascinating literature review, there was a strong correlation between animal protein consumption and chronic kidney diseases and even cardio vascular diseases. The same link was not found with plant- proteins though. Infact, an improvement in overall health was associated with plant protein consumption. 

But when a lay person thinks about the word protein, they often associate it eggs, meat or dairy. Not everyone will think of pulses/ whole grains and vegetables as being a source of protein. Choosing animal sources for protein has been the traditional approach. However, studies like the once mentioned about put light to the benefits of choosing plant- protein over animal. 

Animal foods contain so much more than protein. The type of iron found in animal products is hema- iron, which is further associated with inflammation. Meat also increases your body's 'bad' cholesterol. This is one other reason I ask my clients to switch to plant- protein sources. 

We have looked at kidney health, cholesterol and heart risk so far. But what about diabetes? Is protein also liked to diabetes? 

Let us first understand why diabetes happens. Read this to know more:

Here are seven strong reasons why you need to keep a check on your protein intake:

Impact on Beta Cells:

Beta cells are the type of cells that make insulin. Insulin is the hormone that helps control blood sugar levels in the body.

Imagine tiny factories inside your pancreas (this is where the beta cell's are made) working overtime. These are your beta cells, and their job is crucial for managing blood sugar levels. 

How do they achieve it? I have listed their work below:

    There's no doubt that protein is an essential nutrient for building and repairing tissues. However, excessive protein, particularly from animal sources, can be a double-edged sword for beta cells. Let's find out the reasons:

    • Increased Workload: A 2017 study published in the journal Cell Metabolism found that a high-protein diet, particularly one rich in animal protein, may stress the beta cells. This could lead to impaired insulin secretion and worsening diabetes. 

    This can lead to beta cell exhaustion over time.

    • Inflammatory Response: Research published in 2023 in Nature suggests that digesting large amounts of animal protein might trigger low-grade inflammation in the body. 

    This inflammatory environment can stress and damage beta cells.

    • Glucagon Release: Some research indicates that red meat consumption might stimulate the release of glucagon, a hormone that raises blood sugar levels. This further strains beta cells as they try to counter the rise.

    All these factors contribute to the fact that meat consumption increases the risk of developing type 1 diabetes.

    Insulin Resistance:

    Insulin resistance is like a roadblock on the highway to healthy blood sugar levels. Here's how it plays a crucial role in diabetes:

    Imagine this:

    • You eat a meal, and your blood sugar rises.
    • This rise triggers your pancreas to release insulin, a hormone acting like a key.
    • Insulin unlocks the doors of your cells, allowing sugar from your blood to enter and be used for energy.
    • Blood sugar levels return to normal.

    Now, with insulin resistance:

    • The same scenario happens: you eat, your blood sugar rises, and your pancreas releases insulin.
    • But here's the problem: the cells become resistant to the insulin key. They don't open up as readily, or maybe not at all.
    • Sugar gets stuck in the bloodstream instead of entering the cells for energy.
    • This leads to chronically high blood sugar levels, a hallmark of diabetes.

    The Domino Effect:

    • Over time, the pancreas might struggle to keep up with the constant demand for more insulin due to resistance. This can lead to insulin deficiency, worsening the problem.
    • Chronically high blood sugar can damage nerves, blood vessels, and organs, leading to various health complications.

    Studies suggest a connection between high animal protein intake, particularly red meat, and increased insulin resistance. Read one of them here:

    In this study, researchers studied middle-aged women without diabetes. They found that consuming red meat increased insulin resistance in their body cells! If red meat can do so even in a non-diabetic, imagine what havoc it is wreaking in a body dealing with diabetes. 

    Here is one of our client's talking about her journey towards Diabetes Management:

    This difference between animal and plant protein is due to factors like:

    • Changes in Gut Microbiome: Animal protein can alter the composition of gut bacteria, leading to a rise in inflammation-promoting gut microbes. This inflammation might contribute to insulin resistance

    • Saturated Fat: While not exclusive to animal protein, saturated fats in meat and dairy products might also play a crucial role in insulin resistance.

    Not All Protein Sources Are Equal. Plant-based protein sources like beans, lentils, and tofu generally don't have the same negative associations with insulin resistance as animal protein.

    Kidney Strain:

    Our bodies break down protein from food into its building blocks, amino acids. These are used to build and repair tissues. However, this process also creates waste products, primarily ammonia. These leftovers aren't welcome guests in the bloodstream, and that's where your kidneys come in, acting like super filters.

    Now, for patients with diabetes, things can get a bit trickier. Diabetes can weaken kidney function over time. When you eat a high-protein diet, especially one rich in animal protein, your body creates more waste products like ammonia for the kidneys to clear.

    That is why doctors recommend a low- protein diet to patients with kidney disease

    Imagine your kidneys are already struggling to keep up with their regular workload due to diabetes. A high-protein diet throws even more waste their way, making them work even harder. This extra strain can accelerate kidney damage in diabetics.

    While protein remains essential, moderation is vital, especially for diabetics. Worried about your protein requirments? Watch this:

    Focus on getting protein from plant-based sources like beans, lentils, and tofu. These powerhouses are packed with protein but are easier on your kidneys than meat.

    Remember, working with a nutrition coach provides you with clarity on your bodies requirements as per your activity level and health goals. Its always wise to have professional support on board. 

    Blood Sugar Spikes:

    While protein doesn't directly raise blood sugar like sugar does, some animal protein sources can be surprisingly sneaky in causing blood sugar spikes. Here's why:

    The Hidden Culprits:

    • Processed Meats: Breakfast sausages, deli meats, hot dogs, and bacon often contain added sugars, refined carbohydrates, and unhealthy fats. These extras can break down quickly, causing a blood sugar surge, just like white bread or sugary drinks.

    • Cooking Methods: Deep-frying meat adds unhealthy fats  to the equation, these fats lead to buildup of intra- myocellular fat cells that further worsens diabetes. 

    Beyond the Spike:

    • Hormonal Effects: Some studies suggest red meat consumption might trigger the release of glucagon, a hormone that raises blood sugar levels.

    Lower Fiber Intake.

    Fiber acts like a sponge, slowing down your body's absorption of sugar. This keeps your blood sugar from spiking, which is what we want to avoid, right?

    When you rely on meat for protein, there is little room for fiber. Fiber is ONLY made by plants. Thus, a slab of meat, or dairy, or eggs have 0 fiber. 

    A high- protein diet can quickly turn into a low- fiber diet. Fiber not only plays a role in controlling blood sugar, but also plays an important role in reducing intra- myocellular fats. I explain the mechanism behind diabetes in this video, watch for clarity:

    Alternatively, pulses/ legumes are fiber rich and contain some proteins. Thus, they are a win- win for diabetes and overall health!

    Hidden Sugars In The Name of Proteins.

    Pre-made protein snacks and processed meats can contain hidden sugars. You think you're grabbing something healthy, but might actually be eating chemicals. 

    Here's the thing: manufacturers sneak sugars/ salt into processed meats and protein sources to boost flavor and preserve them. They might not taste sweet, but those added sugars can mess with your blood sugar, just like candy.

    For example,

    1. a scoop of protein powder could have as much as a spoonful of sugar or artificial sweeteners.

    2. Store bought protein bars that are supposed to be healthy snacks rely heavily on artificial sweeteners that disrupt gut health. 

      diabetes protein bar

    Look for things like "added sugars," "high fructose corn syrup," and even sneaky terms like "maltodextrin," which translates to sugar.

    Skip the processed stuff and go for whole-food protein sources instead. Beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh—these plant-powered superfoods that satiate hunger and help you with your nutritional needs. 

    I suggest my clients to keep snacks ready to eat like roasted chickpeas, bean- dip's for veggies, air fried tofu, sprouted mung etc. Carry them with you in the morning if you work long hours an dkeep them at your work desk for easy access.

    Overall Health Concerns.

    Animal protein consumption has been linked to several potential health concerns. Here's a breakdown of some associated diseases:

    Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD): 

     

    A high- protein diet burden's the kidneys and your body might not even absorb all the protein you eat. A moderate protein diet of about 1 gram for every kilogram of your bodyweight is suggested. 

    Type 2 Diabetes: 

    Studies suggest a connection between high animal protein intake, especially red meat, and increased insulin resistance. 

    According to one study by Oxford Academic,

    Substituting 5% of energy intake from vegetable protein for animal protein was associated with a 23% reduced risk of T2D.

    Heart Disease: 

    Many animal protein sources are high in saturated fat, which can raise LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels. Chronically high LDL cholesterol is a significant risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

    Comparatively, the risk of developing cardiovascular disease was profoundly reduced when the switch happened to plant-sourced protein intake. 

    Certain Cancers: 

    Research suggests a possible link between processed meat consumption (sausages, hot dogs) and colorectal cancer. The red meat connection to cancer is under ongoing investigation.

    According to the research by the UCSF Osher Center,

    The risk of colorectal cancer significantly increases linearly with every 50 grams of processed meat consumed daily up to 140 grams (5 oz), when the curve approaches its plateau.

    Plant- proteins fair better than animal proteins, even so, excess is not advised.

    The Power of Plant-Based Protein.

    Up till now, we have been talking about how you should replace your animal protein with plant protein. Now let's explore what you should be eating. 

    Legumes and Pulses

    Legumes are naturally low in fat and practically free of saturated fat. Because they are plant foods, they are cholesterol-free as well. Pulses and legumes are a good source of plant protein, keep you full for long hours, and have practically no detrimental nutritional component to offer!

    I suggest my diabetes clients consume 3- 4 servings of legumes per day. About a fistful is one serving.

    Whole Grains

    Whole grains are a rich source of phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. When you increase the content of whole grains in your diet, the fiber allows the glucose to be absorbed and released slowly into the blood. 

    This enables the body to avoid sudden sugar spikes and manage blood glucose levels more efficiently without extra insulin.

    millets for diabetes

    4- 5 fistful's of whole grain consumption per day is advised. When it comes to millet's and diabetes, brown rice beats white rice but millets beat brown rice! 

    Fruits and Vegetables

    A diet rich in vegetables and fruits can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and digestive problems, and positively affect blood sugar. The fiber keeps the appetite in check. 

    All fruits and vegetables offer some protein, but you must eat vegetables for so many more nutrients that they offer. 

    Your target must be 9 cups of fruits and vegetables per day. 

    Nuts & Seeds:

    Nuts and seeds keep you full for a longer time. That is why I strongly recommend that my clients eat nuts and seeds as snacks when hungry. 

    Nuts are rich in good fats, carbohydrates, and even protein. They also contain immense nutritional value, such as antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. 

    Hemp seeds are the richest in protein in this category. Other delicious options include almonds, cashews, peanuts, and flaxseeds.

    One interesting fact about nuts and seeds is that despite their nutritional content, they are incredibly helpful in reducing weight. And they do that by reducing the total number of calories you consume daily.

    Conclusion.

    While protein is crucial, the source, quality, and nature of protein will make all the difference. Foods high in animal protein can stress insulin-producing cells.

    The good news? Plant-based protein sources like beans and lentils are linked to better blood sugar control. They're packed with fiber, naturally lower in saturated fat, and oh-so-delicious!

    Want to start writing your own transformation story? Get in touch with us today and lets get on a free exploratory call.

    Share this knowledge on social media or with someone who might benefit. Let's empower everyone to take charge of their health!

     

    Let's Just Talk. No Obligations.

    I do free consultations every Tuesday's and Thursday's. Either way you will get some actionable tips to reach your fitness goals faster.

    Previous article 10 Hidden Food Ingredients That Might Be Making Your Diabetes Worse.
    Next article From Pre-Conception to Delivery: Mastering Diabetes for a Healthy Pregnancy.

    Leave a comment

    Comments must be approved before appearing

    * Required fields

    About Roshni Sanghvi

    Roshni Sanghvi is an Indian plant-based sports nutritionist and body transformation specialist. She is the first Indian to represent on a national bodybuilding stage being on a 100% plant-based diet. Roshni is a holistic nutritionist, graduated from the prestigious NutraPhoria college of nutrition in Canada.

    She is also an ACE-certified personal trainer, certified PlantFed gut coach, certified Bodyshred, and Animal flow instructor with a specialisation in disease reversal through food and lifestyle modification.

    Her approach is more focused on helping you in adopting a healthy lifestyle. With her result-oriented holistic methods, she has managed to transform and reverse lifestyle diseases such as PCOS, Thyroid, Diabetes etc for 12k+ clients worldwide.