Eating Protein: Is It Good or Bad For Blood Sugar and Insulin Management?
Most people know that eating a high carb diet is bad for blood sugar levels and causes insulin resistance. But what does the research say about high-protein diets?
Quick, what’s the main benefit of eating protein? If you’re like many people, an image of a scrapping bodybuilder comes to mind, gulping a protein shake after a killer workout in order to support the growth of lean muscle tissue.
But there’s many more benefits of dietary protein. Eating enough dietary protein supports the vital functions that your body’s structural proteins carry out. For instance, hemoglobin, which is a protein, carries oxygen from the lungs to your tissues.
Also, the protein that makes you, you, serves as a matrix that builds your skin, bones, nails, hair and more. The proteins in your body also play a critical role in your immune system, serving as an antibody assembly line.
And if you don’t eat enough protein, your body’s structural proteins will suffer.
Moreover, eating protein leads to satiety, which reduces cravings for unhealthy snacks. However, just like anything else in life, too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing.
And if you’re trying to keep your blood sugar levels stable, whether it’s to maintain rock-steady energy throughout the day or to prevent moodiness or to manage type 2 diabetes, eating too much protein can backfire.
Paradoxically, a 2015 article in ScienceDirect says that researchers found that eating more protein at breakfast lowered individuals' post-meal glucose levels.
However, another article in ScienceDirect published six years earlier concluded that eating too much protein, eaten with fat, leads to insulin resistance. (Insulin resistance means that your body requires more insulin to regulate blood sugar.)
How Much Protein Is Too Much?
Well, in the 2015 article, researchers from the University of Missouri-Columbia suggested that individuals with type 2 diabetes consume 25 to 30 grams of protein—at breakfast alone. This amount is the equivalent of up to 5 eggs.
In a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the co-authors write that in individuals with obesity and type 2 diabetes, the majority of studies using high-protein diets have focused on weight loss at the expense of determining the effects of high-protein consumption on blood sugar levels and insulin response.
The studies that have been conducted on high-protein diets in the general population have witnessed mixed results. But here’s what the co-authors of the EJCN study concluded in the meta analysis: It is possible that healthy individuals consuming a high-protein diet, containing more than 20% of total caloric intake from protein can lead to hyperinsulinemia and in the long term can cause insulin resistance.
High Protein Diets and Weight Loss
But aren’t high protein diets a major strategy in weight loss programs? After all, when you lose weight, you also usually lose muscle mass. Eating a high protein diet, then, is used as a strategy to offset the lean muscle tissue loss.
So what’s a person to do if they’re trying to lose weight and manage blood sugar at the same time?
According to researchers at Washington University St. Louis, the right thing to do is just a normal amount of protein, not a high-protein diet. The researchers found that eating a high-protein diet negates the metabolic benefits that are derived from losing weight.
Although the 2016 study was small, involving 34 postmenopausal women with obesity, the researchers noted that eating a high amount of protein curbed perhaps the most important benefit of weight loss: insulin sensitivity.
The women who lost weight while eating less protein were significantly more sensitive to insulin at the conclusion of the study, reads a news release about the research.
“That’s important because in many overweight and obese people, insulin does not effectively control blood-sugar levels, and eventually the result is type 2 diabetes,” the study concluded.
Normal Protein Intake
So what’s a normal amount of protein? A normal amount of protein that a 180-pound participant in the study ate was approximately 65 grams, or about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight (roughly a third of a gram per pound of bodyweight).
To put it more simply, take your body weight and divide it by three. That’s how much protein you should eat to nourish the protein in your own body—and keep your blood sugar levels steady while preventing insulin resistance.