Diet in Diabetes-Proteins

Diet in Diabetes-Proteins

Introduction

Proteins form an important part of the diet in a diabetic patient. Research has found that they are an alternative to energy production after carbohydrates and fats in conditions leading to starvation. You must have noticed that in a starving person, the patient loses weight as he loses body fats. Here the fatty tissues convert to carbohydrates to provide energy and after that reserve is depleted, the proteins in the body start breaking up to provide energy. This leads to further emancipation, further weight loss, and eventually death if not treated on time.

The picture below shows the effect of starvation and protein loss-

Starved Girl picture
Emancipation due to starvation

In my last post, I had stressed the importance of Carbohydrates in our diet and how it affects the blood sugar levels in a diabetic. In this present article, I am going to highlight the second most important part of our diet-The Proteins.

The diet in diabetes should contain the proper amount of proteins for the wellbeing and good health of the patient.

What are proteins?

Proteins are the basic building blocks of the cells of the human body. They are made up of units called amino acids. There are about 20 Amino Acids which help in structuring a protein molecule. The picture below will show these amino acids that go into making a protein molecule-

Amino acids that make up protein molecule
Essential and nonessential amino acids that help in forming a protein molecule

Why are the Amino acids that important?

These amino acids are used by different body cells for making up the structure of parts of the body like muscles, blood, skin, hair, nails, and internal organs. Out of the above, the Essential Amino Acids, form a part of  Class 1 proteins[see below]. 

What role do dietary proteins play?

Protein is a crucial component of every cell in our bodies. It helps to build and repair tissues like-

  • skeletal muscle,
  • bone,
  • hair,
  • fingernails,
  • cartilage,
  • skin,
  • blood

They also help to synthesize enzymes[digestive enzymes such as the lipase, pepsin, amylase, etc.,], and hormones[insulin, testosterone, thyroid hormone.etc.,]. These enzymes and hormones help regulate metabolism, growth, and many other functions in the body.

Types of proteins-

In my last post on Diet In Diabetes Part 2A – I had briefly touched upon types of proteins. This picture shown below will give you a brief idea of some of the different proteins we consume.

Types of proteins
Types of proteins

As you can see above, proteins are classified as Class 1 or Class 2. Alternately, we can classify them as –

  1. Animal source proteins-mostly Class 1
  2. Plant source proteins- Mostly class 2

Animal source proteins contain all the essential amino acids whereas plant source does not contain all the essential amino acids with the exception of a few like the Soy protein.

So we have to combine 2 or more plant sources to get all the amino acids, for eg. Rice+lentil, Bread +lentil. They can also be combined with animal source proteins to complete the picture.

Just like carbs and fat, excess protein gets converted to fats and is stored in the adipose tissue for future use as a source of energy.

How many grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is appropriate for you-

  • Use the low end of the range if you are in good health and are sedentary: 0.8g per kg.
  • A higher number (between 1.2 and 1.4g/kg) is advised if you are under stress such as pregnancy, recovering from an illness, or if you are involved in a consistent exercise like aerobics, Zumba, etc.
  • For endurance training[tennis, marathon athletes] and gym-goers, where you would like to build up muscles, 1.4 to 2.0 g/kg is recommended.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is a modest 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight in a normal person having a semi-sedentary life.

Whenever we consume food, we should consider how much proteins come with all we eat, along with fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, etc., so that we consume a complete food package.

Care should also be taken to see that these food packages are low in saturated fats and processed carbs like refined flour and refined sugar.

Good sources of protein-

Many of the dietary products we eat have a good source of proteins as well as a poor source of good proteins[proteins that are not complete]. Shown below are some of the common sources of food that contain Class 1 proteins-

Food Protein (in grams) per serving-

  1. 1 cup of milk-8gm
  2. ½ cup cooked beans-8gm
  3. 1 egg- 6gm
  4. ½ cup cottage cheese[paneer]-14gm
  5. 1 cup cooked pasta-8gm
  6. ¼ cup or 28 gm of nuts (all types)-7gm
  7. 100gm tuna, salmon, haddock, or trout-26gm
  8. 6 ounces of plain yogurt[curd]-17gm
  9. 100gm ounces cooked turkey or chicken-24gm
  10. 1 bowl of quinoa[100gm] -4.4gm
  11. 100gm tofu[soy]-4gm

These are a few protein sources I have mentioned for your daily use and more so in a diabetic patient. For some recipes containing proteins, you can refer to my previous article- Prudent Diet for Good Health.

What are protein supplements and are they useful?

In my clinical practice, I get many patients who are keen on-

  • Building muscle mass
  • Having a beautifully structured body
  • Those who attend gyms and have been advised to have protein supplements
  • Patients who have suffered from a prolonged illness like hepatitis, tuberculosis.

Most of them ask to be recommended a protein powder or supplement. I have always recommended natural plant or animal proteins as they are more nutrient-dense. For those who are adamant, I recommend these-

Protein powder made from milk whey
Whey protein powder

Protein powder derived from plants with natural herbs
Plant-based protein powder

Why is protein so important in diabetes?

In a diabetic patient, as the age advances, they are faced with some complications such as Diabetic Nephropathy which leads to Chronic Kidney Disease. [I will touch upon this in my future article on complications in diabetes]. Protein consumption is highly restricted in such patients because a high amount of protein in the diet leads to a condition called Glomerulosclerosis-a disease in which the filtration capacity of the kidneys gets reduced substantially.

Some of these patients also lose muscle mass due to age-related wasting of muscles. In such patients, I do recommend extra proteins to regain their muscle mass. Sometimes I prescribe a  protein powder which is either a plant-based one like soy powder or milk-based like casein. In either case, my advice to them is to have natural proteins that are available in food, because when we eat the food we also get benefits of other nutrients like carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals.

Hence, if a person is a diabetic, and feeling that he or she is losing muscle mass, it becomes mandatory for him or her to check his blood sugar levels as well as HbA1C [click here]levels as well as Serum Proteins regularly to avoid complications like Diabetic Nephropathy.

How else does protein help?

Other than building muscle mass or causing kidney disease in diabetes, proteins help in improving our immunity by producing antibodies to diseases. These are available as serum proteins, mostly a protein called globulin. A high level of globulins is indicative of good immunity against many bacterial diseases.

For more knowledge on proteins for diabetes, you can refer to these sites-

  1. Diabetes.co.uk
  2. Verywell Health

In my next article, I will be writing on Fats in the diet for diabetes-the Good, the Bad and the Ugly ones.

If you have any queries regarding Diabetes in general and proteins in particular, you may mail me at the e-mail address – drrao@raodoctor.com.

 

1 Comment

  1. Madhava

    A very good article. Nicely explained. This can help me in putting on muscles in this trying period of Covid-19 lockdown.

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