Whey Protein and Diabetes
Diabetes is a serious health epidemic worldwide. According to the American Diabetes Association, 34.2 million Americans have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, approximately 10.5% of the population. In addition, 88 million Americans have prediabetes, which means they are more likely to develop diabetes in the next five years.
Type 2 diabetes is a disease that is strongly linked to an unhealthy lifestyle. Although there is a genetic component that determines who will develop diabetes, you can significantly reduce your risk of developing the disease and also mitigate its effects by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. If you have been diagnosed and are wondering how to control diabetes, one way is to eat a more balanced diet that is lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein.
Protein and Blood Sugar
Carbohydrates, particularly those that are highly processed and low in fiber, can spike blood sugar. On the other hand, foods high in protein typically contain little or no carbohydrates as well as they take longer to digest, and therefore do not cause blood sugar to spike as rapidly. Research has found that higher-protein diets help control blood sugar levels after meals.
Another benefit of a higher-protein diet is that it may help with weight loss. A risk factor of type 2 diabetes is obesity. Losing weight may help improve blood sugar for those who have diabetes as well as lower your risk of developing it. Protein increases satiety to help you feel full, so it can helpyou eat fewer calories overall.
This does not mean that you should eat a protein-only diet to reduce your risk of diabetes or control your blood sugar. The body needs the right balance of carbs, protein and fat for ideal health and to get all the vitamins and minerals it needs. Each of these nutrients plays its own important role in helping you stay healthy.
A healthy diet for blood sugar is a nutrient-rich, balanced diet full of vegetables, fruit, and other whole foods, but protein is also essential for the body and an important part of that balance.
Whey Protein and Diabetes: Can Diabetics Drink Whey Protein?
While eating more high protein foods can help, what about whey protein? Is whey protein good for diabetics?
Adding a low carbohydrate whey protein supplement to your routine is one way to create a healthier, more balanced diet that could help control blood sugar. Whey protein is derived from cow’s milk. It’s one of the easiest proteins for your body to digest, and it can provide quick energy when consumed immediately following your workout.
But, what about whey protein for diabetics? Does whey protein lower blood sugar? Or does whey protein spike blood sugar? Or does whey protein spike insulin?
Thankfully, there is a lot of research around whey protein and diabetes:
Study 1: A 2017 study found that consuming some form of whey protein for breakfast helped diabetics lose 200% more weight compared to those that ate a higher carbohydrate breakfast. Of the 48 participants with type 2 diabetes, the group that had whey protein lost an average of 7.6 kilograms (~17 pounds) in 12 weeks. Those who ate other proteins (eggs, tuna, soy, etc.) lost 6.1 kilograms(~13 pounds), while the carb-heavy breakfast group lost just 3.1 kilograms (~7 pounds) during the study period.
Not only that, but the insulin response was significantly higher in the group that had the whey protein with their meals. This means their bodies had a better control on blood glucose, thanks to the addition of the whey protein powder supplement to their diet.
One of the reasons for this result is that whey protein helps suppress ghrelin, the hormone that tells your body you’re hungry. When ghrelin is high, it helps keep you satiated throughout the day and can even help to prevent glucose spikes after meals.
Study 2: A 2005 study discovered that whey protein helped improve insulin sensitivity in people with type 2 diabetes. In this study, subjects were given a high-glycemic (GI) breakfast and lunch. Foods that are high in the glycemic index tend to spike blood sugar more compared to low GI foods.
On the days that they added whey protein to their high GI meals, their bodies were better able to manage blood sugar increases caused by the high GI foods. On the days the subjects drank the whey protein supplement, insulin sensitivity increased by 31% after breakfast and a whopping 57% after lunch. This means their body was much better at handling blood sugar, even while eating foods that cause blood sugar to rise.
As this study suggests, the addition of whey protein to breakfast can help reduce insulin resistance, the underlying cause of type 2 diabetes. If you have a family history of diabetes, then adding whey protein to your day may be a great way to help improve your insulin sensitivity along with other healthy lifestyle habits.
A diet for people with diabetes or even those that are predisposed should include the right amount of protein, from whey or other foods. Creating the right balance of protein and carbohydrates in your meals makes it easier for your body to manage even high-GI foods. Adding a whey protein powder supplement to your day is a simple way to stimulate the release of insulin and increase sensitivity.
These two studies are strong indicators that the addition of whey protein to a well-balanced diet can help promote weight loss, control appetite-related hormones and even help the body better manage foods that would normally spike blood sugar. The addition of whey protein can be a simple approach for diabetics or those at risk for diabetes to better control blood sugar.
Whey Protein and Diabetes: How Much Do I Need?
The beauty of whey protein is that a little goes a long way. For example, just a scoop of our Vital Whey protein has 16 grams of protein. That’s about twice as much as a cup of milk or a slice of cheese!
The fact that it’s concentrated means you don’t need a lot for it to be effective. With just 15 to 30 grams of a whey protein powder supplement per day added to a smoothie, protein bar, or other recipes ( great for breakfast, lunch or as a post-workout supplement), you can control your appetite, manage your weight and improve your insulin sensitivity. These potential benefits could in turn reduce your risk of diabetes or help manage your blood sugar if you already have diabetes.
However, there is one concern about whey protein for diabetics — kidney health. If diabetes has already impacted your kidneys or if you are at risk of kidney stones, eating a large amount of protein may make that worse. Adding too much protein, even from whey, may harm your kidneys. If this is the case, speak to your doctor and registered dietitian regarding the right amount of whey protein for you.
A Balanced Diet for Diabetes
Controlling blood sugar is about adopting a healthy and balanced diet with the right amount of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Increasing protein, in balance with healthy/high fiber carbs like fruits, vegetables and whole grains, can help improve blood sugar.
Adding a whey protein shake for breakfast or as a mid-afternoon snack is a convenient and tasty way to do something amazing for your body and blood sugar.
If you do decide to add a whey protein shake, make sure it is low in sugar to get the most benefit. Avoid adding too many fruits or other high carb additions to your shake. Limit your fruit to just 1 per smoothie. For low-carb smoothie additions consider:
- Unsweetened almond milk or other low carbohydrate plant-based milk
- Natural nut butters (peanut, almond, cashew)
- Spinach or other green leafy vegetable
- Frozen cauliflower
- Pureed, canned pumpkin
- Spices: cinnamon, nutmeg
- Sugar substitutes: stevia, monk fruit
For more ideas for healthy, low carb smoothies with whey protein check out the recipe section of our website.
Overall whey protein is a great addition to a diet for diabetes that can help control appetite, promote weight loss and improve insulin sensitivity.
- Gannon, M. C., Nuttall, F. Q., Saeed, A., Jordan, K., & Hoover, H. (2003). An increase in dietary protein improves the blood glucose response in persons with type 2 diabetes. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 78(4), 734–741.
- Veldhorst, M., Smeets, A., Soenen, S., Hochstenbach-Waelen, A., Hursel, R., Diepvens, K., Lejeune, M., Luscombe-Marsh, N., & Westerterp-Plantenga, M. (2008). Protein-induced satiety: effects and mechanisms of different proteins. Physiology & Behavior, 94(2), 300–307.
- Delimaris, I. (2013). Adverse Effects Associated with Protein Intake above the Recommended Dietary Allowance for Adults. ISRN Nutrition, 2013, 126929.