When trying to manage or help patients manage type 2 diabetes, it’s easy to focus directly on carbohydrates. After all, that’s the root of the issue, right? Eating fruit, bread and other types of carbohydrates leads to a rise in blood glucose, and high blood glucose is characteristic of the condition. However, the development of type 2 diabetes is not that simple, and nutritional treatment goes far beyond carb control. Let’s steal carbohydrates’ spotlight for a moment and showcase the power of protein in blood glucose control.
In the battle of diabetes, nutrition is our knight in shining armor, and with diabetes affecting nearly 26 million Americans, it’s time for nutrition to take hold (1). Of those with diabetes, 90-95 percent have type 2 diabetes (1). It’s an issue that is not going to fade fast; we need to continue to tackle it from all sides, especially at the level of lifestyle modifications- like diet and exercise. It is critical to recognize that nutritional management of diabetes isn’t only about regimenting carbohydrate intake. The great thing is that components of foods interact in ways that can meaningfully impact their individual and collective effects. Such is the case with carbohydrates and protein, and we can use this to our benefit when managing type 2 diabetes.
By definition, carbohydrates raise blood glucose, and diabetes results from the body’s misregulation of blood glucose levels. Nutritional control therefore involves aiding the body in glucose regulation. We can do this by controlling portions and spacing of carbohydrate intake, but a crucially important addition to this approach is strategically pairing carbohydrate-containing foods with protein-containing foods. Studies have shown multiple positive effects on management of type 2 diabetes of diets that are higher in protein (2). Consumption of protein leads to increased insulin secretion, which helps the body level off the rise in blood glucose stimulated by eating. Blood glucose therefore tends to rise less after high-protein meals than meals that are particularly heavy in carbohydrates. Including protein in meals and snacks can also reduce fasting blood glucose and glycated hemoglobin, an indicator of glucose control over time (2).
Spreading carbohydrate intake over the course of the day and always pairing it with a high-quality source of protein can help diminish unwanted fluctuations in blood glucose (2). Eggs are a versatile and easy option for including protein with meals and snacks, and we can also look to Greek yogurt, low-fat cottage cheese, nuts and seeds to pair with carbohydrates. Especially in the management of type 2 diabetes, consider these options for partnering protein and carbohydrates at meals and snacks:
- Grab a hardboiled egg to have with veggies or whole grain crackers
- Pair your fruit with cheese, Greek yogurt, nuts or nut butters
- Add a dollop of hummus to carrots, peppers or other raw veggies
- Breakfast: Try whole grain toast topped with an egg-veggie scramble, or this Breakfast Burrito Panini
- Lunch: Scatter beans, seeds or chopped hardboiled eggs on salad, or whip up this Pasta Salad with Herb Vinaigrette
- Dinner: Make sautéed veggies a meal by adding poached eggs on top, or heat up this Broccoli Quiche in Colorful Peppers (3)
1) Diabetes. Center for Disease Control and Prevention Web site.http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/AAG/ddt.htm. Published August 1, 2011. Accessed November 5, 2013.
2) Layman DK, Clifton P, Gannon MC, et al. Protein in optimal health: heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008; 87(5):15715-55. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/87/5/1571S.full. Accessed November 5, 2013.
3) Recipes & more. American Egg Board. www.incredibleegg.org. Updated 2013. Accessed November 5, 2013.