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Expert-reviewed by Ashwini S.Kanade, Registered Dietician and Certified Diabetes Educator with 17 years of experience

A lot has been said about protein and diabetes. Protein is a macronutrient that cannot be skipped because it is responsible for cellular repair and division[1]. Lack of protein will hamper growth and rejuvenation of the body. But protein can also affect the secretion of hormones that monitor blood sugar levels[2]. That may make it tricky to know how much protein to include in your diet, especially if you have diabetes.  

Diabetes and protein

Protein triggers the secretion of glucagon and insulin in the body which regulates glucose in the blood. But in people with diabetes, only glucagon is secreted and insulin is suppressed leading to a rise in blood sugar level. But this can be managed by including protein in the early meal of the day: in your breakfast.[3]

Protein in breakfast

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, more so for people with diabetes, because the body has gone without food for the entire night. That is a long gap and the body is in starvation mode.[4] “For many people, breakfast is the most neglected meal of the day. But if you have diabetes, breakfast is a must. The body needs the nutrients that breakfast provides to literally ‘break the fast’ that results during sleeping hours,” says Dr Roshani Gadge, Diabetologist consultant, Gadge Diabetes Centre.

Blood sugar spikes easily when the body is in starvation mode. Especially if the food is high on carbohydrate that instantly gets converted into sugar, which can result in a spike. To prevent that,  it is necessary to choose the right kind of food. “Eating foods that have a low glycemic index helps prevent a spike in blood sugar after meals. Increasing protein intake at breakfast is helpful for managing after-meal blood glucose,” says Dr Gadge.

What to eat

The protein requirement for people with diabetes and those without is the same. So, 20-30% of your calories should be consumed in the form of protein.[5] What you need to do differently is pay attention to what you eat along with that protein, as that is what will affect your blood sugar levels. Dr Gadge believes there is no need to make any major changes in your breakfast. “Just tweak your choices to add protein-rich components,” she says.

On an average for a total requirement of 2000 calories/ day, you need 50-175 gms of protein. These can be sourced from the following [6]:

  • Two egg whites – 22 g
  • 10 almonds – 2.5 g
  • 100 gms walnut – 15 g
  • 100 g of paneer – 18.3 g
  • 100 g dal – 9 g
  • 100 g soya granules – 54.2 g

Include them in your diet. “2 egg white omelette with chapati, add nuts (almond or walnuts) to your porridge, multi-pulses dosa, curd-based smoothies (without sugar, jaggery and honey), 1 glass of milk with nuts added to it, paneer paratha, mix dal paratha with curd. Add soya granules to upma/poha,” suggests Dr Gadge.

Non-vegetarians can re-look at the way they consume fish. 100 g of fish provides for 22 g of protein. Grill it for maximum benefits. Smoked salmon on a toast is a great way to begin the day.  

In the end, protein in your diet is a must. But you reap the most benefits from this macronutrient if you take it early in the day. Protein metabolism is a slow process, so a protein-rich breakfast takes more time in getting converted into glucose. This window keeps your blood sugar levels in check.  


  1. N.ShangS. ChaplotJ.Wu. 12 – Food proteins for health and nutrition. Woodhead Publishing Series in Food Science, Technology and Nutrition 2018, Pages 301-336 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780081007228000139
  2. Franz MJ. Protein: metabolism and effect on blood glucose levels. Diabetes Educ. 1997 Nov-Dec;23(6):643-6, 648, 650-1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9416027
  3. Park YM, Heden TD, Liu Y, Nyhoff LM, Thyfault JP, Leidy HJ, Kanaley JA. A high-protein breakfast induces greater insulin and glucose-dependent insulinotropic peptide responses to a subsequent lunch meal in individuals with type 2 diabetes. J Nutr. 2015 Mar;145(3):452-8. doi: 10.3945/jn.114.202549. Epub 2014 Dec 24. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25733459
  4. Berg JM, Tymoczko JL, Stryer L. Section 30.3Food Intake and Starvation Induce Metabolic Changes. Biochemistry. 5th edition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK22414/
  5. Hamdy O, Horton ES. Protein content in diabetes nutrition plan. Curr Diab Rep. 2011 Apr;11(2):111-9. doi: 10.1007/s11892-010-0171-x. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21207203
  6. U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE https://www.usda.gov/


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