How Much Protein Should a Person With Diabetes Eat?

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Protein itself does not have much of an effect on blood sugar levels, though the food the protein is in may. Typically, people with diabetes don't need any more protein than people who don't have diabetes. There are, however, times when less protein is better.

Foods rich in protein
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Protein and Your Health

Protein is one of three essential macronutrients; the other two are fat and carbohydrate. These are needed in large amounts to maintain health and vital functions.

The body uses protein to build, repair, and maintain most of your body's tissues and organs. Proteins are also necessary for immune system function and help some additional physiological processes as well.

Daily Protein Intake

As long as your kidneys are healthy, about 10% to 35% of your daily calories should come from protein. This is the same amount suggested for a balanced non-diabetic diet. About 45% to 65% of your caloric intake should come from carbohydrates and the rest should come from fat.

Some health experts suggest that it is more accurate to use the standard formula of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.

To do the kilogram conversion, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2. For instance, if you weigh 150 pounds, that is equal to 68 kilograms. Multiply that by 0.8 and you get a protein goal of 54 grams.

According to the USDA Dietary Guidelines, it is recommended to eat 5 1/2 ounces of protein-rich food each day. Foods that are high in protein include meat, fish, seafood, chicken, eggs, dairy products, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

For example:

  • One-half chicken breast has 29 grams of protein
  • One cup of black beans has 15 grams of protein
  • An egg has 6 grams of protein
  • One cup of low-fat milk has 8 grams of protein
  • A 3-ounce portion of steak has 26 grams of protein

Choosing Proteins

When choosing proteins for a diabetic diet, the concern is more with the fats and carbohydrates that these foods contain.

Some types of carbohydrates, for instance, are quickly converted to glucose, which may lead to a spike. Additionally, the risk of weight gain from high-fat and high-carb foods can lead to less control of blood sugar levels.

The American Diabetes Association recommends eating fish as a protein source at least twice a week. They also recommend limiting red meat and processed meats like ham, bacon, and hot dogs because these tend to be high in saturated fats. Lean meats are a better choice for a balanced diet.


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High-Protein Diets

Switching to a high-protein diet may seem like it should make a difference in blood sugar regulation. However, the protein probably doesn't help much at all, at least for the long term.​

Research is inconclusive about how much protein intake is best for managing diabetes, but a high-protein diet appears to offer no benefits in how your sugar is digested or absorbed. And it doesn't have any long-term effects on your blood sugar or insulin requirements.

This means that if a person with diabetes switches to a high-protein diet, any therapeutic benefit is probably due to the concurrent reduction and closer regulation of carbohydrate consumption, not the protein itself. This is an important basis for a consistent carbohydrate diet, which can help control type 2 diabetes.

That is not to say that high-protein diets are right for everyone. You need to take your personal situation and eating habits into account.

For instance, studies have been done on meals that are high in both fat and protein. In people with type 1 diabetes, their insulin dosage needed to be increased after one of these meals. Due to this, researchers recommend close monitoring of glucose levels.

Diabetic Nephropathy

People who have diabetic nephropathy, which is a kidney disease related to diabetes, often need to eat less protein. In this case, the recommended protein intake is about one gram (or less) per kilogram of body weight. 

You will need to work with your healthcare provider to determine how much protein you need each day. Too much protein might be bad for your kidneys, but too little protein could lead to malnutrition and unintended weight loss.

Personalized Protein Intake

Anyone with diabetes can benefit from a personalized protein intake recommendation as well. There are many factors that play a role in a well-balanced diet and your needs may be different from the general recommendations.

It's best to speak with your healthcare provider about your protein needs. You can also discuss it with a certified diabetes educator or a dietitian or nutritionist who specializes in medical nutrition therapy for people with diabetes.

A Word From Verywell

While protein does not seem to directly affect blood glucose levels, the other components of high-protein foods may. Keep this in mind and try to limit your proteins to the daily recommended amount and to foods that are low in fat and carbohydrates.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020.

  2. Wu G. Dietary protein intake and human healthFood Funct. 2016;7(3):1251-1265. doi:10.1039/c5fo01530h

  3. American Diabetes Association. Protein. Healthy Food Choices Made Easy.

  4. ElSayed NA, Aleppo G, Aroda VR, et al. 5. Facilitating Positive Health Behaviors and Well-being to Improve Health Outcomes: Standards of Care in Diabetes-2023Diabetes Care. 2023;46(Supple 1):S68-S96. doi:10.2337/dc23-S005

  5. Bell KJ, Smart CE, Steil GM, et al. Impact of fat, protein, and glycemic index on postprandial glucose control in type 1 diabetes: Implications for intensive diabetes management in the continuous glucose monitoring era. Diabetes Care. 2015 Jun; 38(6): 1008-1015. doi:10.2337/dc15-0100

Additional Reading

By Shereen Lehman, MS
Shereen Lehman, MS, is a healthcare journalist and fact checker.