diabetes supplement
Diabetes Diet

Protein Powder for Diabetes

“Is taking whey protein powder good or bad for people with type 2 diabetes?”

This was a correspondent’s recent question. I told him that this is such a good question that I would answer him here.

Many people supplement their protein intake with a daily scoop or two of protein powder. Years ago I did that myself.

We have a wide variety of types and brands of protein powder to chose from. Besides whey protein, we can get casein, soy, and egg white protein powder from many vendors.

Some years ago I decided that using the most complete protein was the best idea. I discovered that egg protein powder was the most complete. That means it has the best balance of the nine essential amino acids that comprise protein.

One way to check this is to consult NutritionData.com. This comprehensive nutrition website rates foods in many respects, including “protein quality.” An amino acid score of 100 or more indicates a complete or high-quality protein, based on the recommendations of the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine.

NutritionData’s report for whole dried eggs awards it an amino acid score of 131, the highest such score I can find for any food. Its  amino acid report for dried egg whites is also high, 125.

Whey is also a high quality protein, scoring 102 for sweet dried whey and 109 for acid dried whey. But a separate NutritionData score for a food’s inflammation factor indicates that whey and whole dried egg is inflammatory, while dried egg whites are anti-inflammatory.

So, for several years I would make an egg white protein powder drink every day. Until I realized that I was already getting too much protein in my diet.

Like other men, I need just 56 grams of complete protein per day, according to the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine. Most adult women need 46 grams, according to the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine. Pregnant women and nursing mothers need 71 grams. The Food and Nutrition Board defines complete protein as “Protein from animal sources such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, and yogurt provide all nine indispensable amino acids, and for this reason are referred to as ‘complete protein.’”

Do you know how much complete protein you get in your daily diet? For a long time I didn’t. But with the help of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Nutrient Database it’s easy to figure out. From just the eggs, fish, and yogurt that I eat almost every day I already get a bit more than the 71 grams of complete protein that I would need if I were pregnant. So I certainly don’t supplement it with a protein shake any more.

What’s wrong with getting more protein than that? Unless you have kidneys that are already damaged, I am not one of those who think that a high-protein diet would be hard on them. But we do have some evidence that a surplus of protein turns into glucose. Two studies are “Protein Controversies in Diabetes” and “Effect of Protein Ingestion on the Glucose Appearance Rate in People with Type 2 Diabetes.”

How much protein turns into glucose remains in question. Our bodies can convert protein into glucose, “but very slowly and inefficiently,” writes Dr. Richard K. Bernstein in Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution.

I for one am cutting back on the amount of protein that I eat so that I can bring my A1C level lower. I would like to bring it down to the 4.5 level that Dr. Bernstein recommends, but it stubbornly remains at about 5.2. My best guess is that even with my very low-carb diet the problem is that I get too much protein, some of which gets converted to glucose.

Consequently, I couldn’t answer my correspondent’s question in a few words. I can’t make a general recommendation that those of us who have diabetes should use a protein powder supplement whether from whey, egg whites, or anything else.

But some people, however, might need more protein than they usually get. Especially those who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, because they are not likely to get enough of what the Food and Nutrition Board calls complete protein, all of which comes from animals.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

Never Miss An Update

Subscribe to my free newsletter “Diabetes Update”

I send out my newsletter on first of every month. It covers new articles and columns that I have written and important developments in diabetes generally that you may have missed.

Previous Post Next Post

You Might Also Like These Articles

  • bharat at

    hey..i am type 2 diabetic..i want to know..can i drink protein shakes…i am doing exercises everyday and walk o treadmill for 15-20 mins…

    • David Mendosa at

      Certainly, Bharat. I have type 2 diabetes and a protein shake is almost always my breakfast. I wrote about them more recently at “The New Breakfast for People with Diabetes.” After writing that I switched to the Garden of Life brand of vegan protein and to almond milk, but the point is the same.

  • James manuel at

    I am a type 2, who needs to gain weight/muscle. When should I drink protein shakes, morning, afternoon or night? How much should I drink? I workout 5 days a week lifting weights.

    • David Mendosa at

      I can’t advise you regarding muscle gain, James. I specialize in diabetes, particularly blood glucose management. For that, you have to be the judge when you best like to drink it. Specifically, I wrote this article for people on a very low-carb vegetarian diet, like me. The protein shake provides most of the daily protein requirement.

  • Brian O'Connell at

    Hi David,
    Thanks for all the work you have done to provide this site.
    I’m in a health/weight loss class where the RN instructor recommends eating a limited amount of low fat dairy products and protein powder/drinks containing whey protein. She advocates eating some protein with every meal to prevent the rapid rise of blood glucose when eating fruit, grains or other high glycemic foods. I have been using pre-made protein drinks and, to save money, bought some Muscle Milk powder, which contains 100% Whey Protein.

    When I got home, my vegan children were outraged, saying “Do you know how bad whey and casein is for you? They are advocates of a plant based diet and are disciples of Dr. Joel Fuerman, Dr. Michael Greger, Dr. John McDougall and others who say dairy products have no place in a human diet. They told me to return my purchase and get a supplement with pea or hemp protein instead.

    I don’t always have a balanced diet, especially away from home. Do you have any thoughts on plant-based protein drinks? I assume that they don’t contain complete amino acids based on what you wrote in this article.

    • David Mendosa at

      Good question, Brian. Four years ago I wrote in this article that egg protein is the “most complete.” Now, I personally drink a plant-based protein shake (Garden of Life brand) for breakfast (and wrote an update article a year or so ago about it). The company support people did assure me that it is a complete protein, but figuring out the proportion of all the amino acids is too much for my brain to handle in order to confirm it. However, you (or your children) could do it in a few hours. They do have strong opinions about whey and casein, which vegans seem to have in general. Those experts you cite have similarly strong opinions about dairy products that, as a vegetarian, I don’t share. This whole field of nutrition is rife with opinions and deficient in facts.

  • Joan at

    Hello every one, here every one is sharing these knowledge,
    therefore it’s good to read this website, and I used to pay a quick visit this web site everyday.

  • Marcelo at

    15 % carb , 15 % protein, 70 % fat . it´s good ?

    • David Mendosa at

      Dear Marcelo,

      That sounds to me like a quite good ratio!



  • Dan Karkoulas at

    when a diabetic eats a steak is the protein digested and become glucose? If that’s true is that why bs#s can go up 5-6 hours after eating a low carb but high protein meal?

    • David Mendosa at

      Dear Dan,

      Very little protein and no fat becomes glucose in our bodies. So something else, most likely carbohydrates or an inflammation, is what would make your blood sugar go up 5 or 6 hours later.