Carbs, carbs, carbs – reading diabetes magazines and talking to doctors and dietitians you could get the impression that managing your diet is all about how much and what type of carbohydrate foods you are eating. Now there is no mistaking that knowledge of carbohydrates are essential, but they are certainly not the be all and end all of a healthy diet.
The other macronutrients, protein and fat also play an important role in the diet and in managing glucose control. Today the spotlight is on protein.
Our body organs and its messengers, such as enzymes and hormones are made of proteins. So you can see that it’s a fairly important nutrient.
Proteins are made up of different amino acids. Think of amino acids as the letters in the alphabet. Different combinations produce different types of proteins just as words are composed of letters arranged in a variety of sequences.
The body needs to replenish its protein stores daily. It doesn’t stock protein and muscle and organ cells wear out and must be replaced on a routine basis. How much we need is based on a many factors including our age, sex, weight, and activity level. People who have suffered a traumatic injury or have certain wasting diseases need more protein as do weight lifters and pregnant women.
Depending on these factors your requirements could be anywhere from .8 gm/kg to 2 gm/kg body weight for the day. For someone weighing 50kg (110lbs) that is 40 to 100 grams of protein a day or the equivalent of 4 oz of meat, 1/2 cup of mashed potatoes, 1 slice bread, ½ cup cereal ½ cup carrots, ½ cup spinach, 1small apple and 1 small peach at the low end. That doesn’t sound like much food, does it? In the United States many people (especially if they are not vegetarians) eat more than they need.
For people with diabetes making sure they eat a variety of healthy proteins can be a boon to their glycemic control. Unless your diet is devoid of carbohydrate, protein doesn’t raise blood glucose. That means if you choose the right kinds of proteins at meals (those that are low in saturated fat and moderate in fat) you may see better numbers than if you were eating carbohydrate foods alone. Or put another way, rice and vegetables with tofu is a better choice than just rice and vegetables.
Although the Institute of Medicine hasn’t singled out diabetes as a condition that requires added protein, studies have demonstrated that for people with type 2 eating a bit more protein can help glycemic control by improving satiety and weight loss. And, because most proteins contain fat, which helps slow down the rise in blood glucose following a carbohydrate load, people with type 1 can also benefit from including a heart healthy source of protein with every meal.
Say protein and meat comes to mind. Meat is an excellent source of high quality protein. It provides B vitamins, iron, and zinc, but so do legumes (dried peas and beans) without the saturated fat. If you choose red meats as your protein source, look for the loin cuts such as sirloin or tenderloin.
Other protein sources are low fat dairy such as cheese, milk and yogurt; soy: milk tofu, edamame (fresh soybeans) meat analogs, nuts and seeds and seitan (wheat gluten).
So the next time you are thinking of what’s for dinner, try out a new (to you) protein source.