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The Importance of Protein in Diabetes Care

There are two kinds of diabetes: Type I and Type II. Type I diabetes is technically an autoimmune disease, with the body's immune system attacking its own pancreas, leading to a need for insulin injections. Type I diabetes typically begins in childhood and accounts for between 5 and 10% of all cases of diabetes. (Source: Gottlieb, 2000). Type II diabetes, on the other hand, affects over 15 million Americans at some level. Type II diabetes is often referred to by several names, including simple "sugar", but it is not always sugar that is the only problem. People who have been diagnosed with Type II diabetes tend to think that they should avoid sugar and only sugar and then they will be fine, but this is simply not the case.

Type I diabetes is an autoimmune disease, a malfunction in the body. Type II diabetes, on the other hand, is often caused by poor diet, lack of exercise and your own body's genetic predisposition toward not handling sugar surges very well. Diabetes can be regulated with good diet and exercise, however, when left unchecked it becomes more and more serious as time goes on. Ignore your diabetes and you are facing increased risk of kidney disease, including eventual renal failure, eye disease, including blindness, and nerve damage to the lower limbs. In fact, about half of all of the lower limb amputations done in this country every year are directly related to diabetes.

The Importance of Protein in Diabetes Care

A healthy diet and exercise program is the key to getting your health back. While there is no cure for Type I, you can reverse Type II diabetes by losing weight and keeping your important number (weight, cholesterol and AC1) in check. You can even end your need for medications of any kind. Before you can learn what a healthy diet is and how each component (fat, protein and carbohydrates) can work with one another, you have to learn some information about the disease that is affecting you.

Know the Symptoms of Diabetes

The symptoms for Type I and Type II diabetes are the same and should be immediately investigated by anyone who notices them. These symptoms include:

- Increased and intense thirst, especially thirst that wakes you up in the middle of the night

- Frequent urination

- Increased appetite

- Fatigue

- Unexplained weight loss

- Blurred vision

- Dry mouth

- Vomiting or diarrhea with no other symptoms of ill health

- Recurrent yeast or urinary tract infections

- Very slow healing cuts, scrapes and wounds on the skin

Learning How Food is Used in the Body

Many people who have just been diagnosed with Type II diabetes will think that they only need to avoid sugar, such as cakes, cookies and candies, but will be able to continue eating their regular foods. They will continue to eat huge meals, racks of bacon, great globs of butter and fried foods by the ton. Their cholesterol and sugar numbers keep climbing and they are facing the potential of needing to have insulin injections. The doctor suggests more dietary changes and an increase in exercise but the person is frustrated. What else could they eliminate?

It is not about eliminating foods - it is about balance and moderation. It is not only white sugar that is the problem (although it is a large one), it is also the amount of food that is being ingested.

Every food that is eaten is broken down in a process that is called digestion. During this process, food is broken down into its smallest elements, for instance, proteins into amino acids, and then used by the body as it is needed. The body needs fuel to move around and for the functions that take place within it. The easiest fuel sources are fats and carbohydrates, which the body will obviously need. It also needs protein. In fact, all foods, regardless of what they are, can be classified as one of these three macronutrients.

Diabetes Care

The body has two forms of reserves for its energy storage, long-term (where fat is stored) and short-term (glycogen, a complex, insoluble carbohydrate form). The body converts foods into either fat for long-term storage or glycogen for short-term storage by the presence of insulin, which is released by the liver in the amount that the body judges to be necessary. When the blood sugar goes up too high too quickly, the body is flooded by insulin. The more insulin that is present in the body, the more that foods will be converted immediately to fat and sent to long-term storage. After a meal that causes a sugar surge, you will typically feel tired and hungry very quickly because your body did not get any of the converted energy that it really needed in the first place. The body, sensing that it is once again empty and in need of energy, will release a peptide hormone: glucagon. Glucagon is the opposite of insulin - instead of stimulating food storage, it stimulates the cells to convert glycogen into glucose to be burned for energy. (Source: Carlson 2008)

Foods that break down quickly in the body raise the blood glucose level the fastest and the most, leading to a great flood of insulin and more fat storage. The foods that break down more slowly do not create a sugar spike and will allow the body to digest more carefully, with less fat storage.

What a Healthy Diet Looks Like

Diabetics also think they must avoid carbohydrates at all costs, as if they actually could. The problem then is that they will try to stick to overly high protein diets that are dangerous and can cause even more health problems in the long run. A diet that is too high in protein can lead to problems with liver damage, kidney stones and heart disease (which are all serious problems for those who have diabetes). It is important then that the right amounts of foods of the right kinds be included in a healthy diet. Protein is vital to every cell in the body, including the muscles. Fats, especially the healthy varieties, are needed as well. Carbohydrates should be included and should be of the complex variety as often as possible. Complex carbohydrates, like whole grain breads and vegetables, do not cause sugar spikes in the body.

The American Heart Association recommends a diet that is high in complex carbohydrates, with moderate protein and fat intake. In fact, the proteins should be no more than 35% of the daily calories. Other experts agree with this diet plan, but the best plan for each new diabetic is the one that is agreed on by the doctor or nutritionist. Learning a new diet is so important that all people who are newly diagnosed should have a dietician or nutritionists help with calorie counts and macronutrient breakdowns.

Supplements for the Diabetic

There are many people who find it hard to get all of their nutritional needs, especially when they first learn that they are diabetic. Adding a healthy supplement is one of the easiest ways to ensure not only that they are getting enough calories throughout the day but that they are getting the right levels of nutrition as well. It is suggested that diabetics eat five to six small meals throughout the day instead of trying to eat two to three larger meals. This keeps the blood sugar levels more even and prevents the extreme hunger that can lead to poor food choices.

If you are opting for a full meal replacement protein shake, make sure that it does not have a lot of calories or added sugars. There are brands that are meant for diabetics that might be more beneficial. If they are too heavy or have too many calories though, you can try a liquid protein supplement shot, like Profect, from Protica, which is only 100 calories and has no added sugars at all. At only 2.9 fluid ounces, it gives a whole 25 grams of protein, per serving.


The American Heart Association
Neil R. Carlson Foundations of Physiological Psychology Pearson Education Inc. Boston, MA 2008
Bill Gottlieb Alternative Cures Rodale Press USA 2000

About Protica Research

Founded in 2001, Protica, Inc. is a nutritional research firm specializing in the development of protein-rich, capsulized foods (dense nutrition in compact liquid and food forms). Protica manufactures Profect protein beverage, IsoMetric, Fruitasia and more than 100 other brands in its GMP-certified, 250,000 square foot facility.

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