Understanding Protein

protein-rich foods

Excess protein can mean excess calories and fat.

It's best to get what you need from low-fat protein sources like lean meats, poultry, fish, low-fat dairy products, and tofu.

Protein is an essential part of your diet — and your body. But too much of a good thing can be bad for you. Most  meats have fat as well as protein. So excess protein from animal sources can mean excess calories and fat — which means a greater chance at gaining weight.

Proteins are found in:

  • Beef and pork
  • Poultry
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products, like cottage cheese and regular cheese
  • Plant-based proteins, like beans, nuts and tofu

The best advice about protein?

Get what you need from low-fat protein sources like lean meats, poultry and fish, low fat or nonfat dairy products, and vegetarian protein sources like tofu.

How much protein do I need each day?

For most people with diabetes, the amount of protein you need is the same as for people without diabetes. The National Institutes of Medicine recommend protein should typically provide 10-35% of total calories. The average intake for adults in the U.S. and Canada is about 15% of total calories.

For most people, this amounts to 6 to 8 ounces of lean meat, poultry or fish daily. Think of a 3-ounce portion of protein as the size of a deck of playing cards. Aim for including roughly two of these in your diet daily.

If you have kidney problems, you may need to limit how much protein you eat. Excess protein can make kidney damage worse. Your registered dietitian can help select the amount of protein that is right for you.

Are All Proteins Created Equal?

The source of protein is something else to consider – because some proteins are higher in calories and fats than others. Saturated fats and cholesterol are found in many protein-rich foods, contributing to blood vessel disease, heart disease and stroke. Keep in mind what you’ve already learned about fats and oil, and remember these tips for choosing leaner protein sources:

  • Avoid fatty meats like bacon, sausage, ribs and hotdogs.
  • Choose lean cuts of meat, such as “loin” and “round.”
  • Trim visible fat from meat and remove skin from poultry.
  • Cook meat, poultry and fish using low-fat cooking methods like baking, broiling and roasting.
  • Try vegetarian protein sources, like soy products, tofu and beans.
  • Use nonfat or 1% low-fat dairy products.
  • Strictly limit cheese. Use low-fat or nonfat varieties only.

Even with leaner proteins, limit your portion size to about 6 to 8 ounces a day.


What about high protein, low carb diets?

High protein, low carb diets have become a popular form of rapid weight loss. The American Diabetes Association does not recommend high-protein diets as a method for weight loss at this time. The long-term health effects of such diets are unknown for people with diabetes. The best bet: Choose a weight loss diet that includes all the food groups.

Self-assessment Quiz

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