High-protein diets may reduce complications in type 2 diabetes

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A team of Danish researchers examine how substituting carbohydrates with protein can reduce glucose excursions in type 2 diabetic patients.

For those of with type 2 diabetes, learning to manage the disease is all about building healthy lifestyle habits such as avoiding processed sugars, exercising more frequently, learning to de-stress, and cutting out alcohol. New research published in the British Journal of Nutrition has added another piece of advice to that list—replacing dietary carbohydrates with protein.

In patients with type 2 diabetes, the body is typically less sensitive to the hormone insulin, which helps the body store excess sugars. Without proper insulin production, blood sugar is much more likely to spike after a meal. Over time, sudden sugar spikes can increase risk of type 2 diabetes complications. 

By reducing energy obtained from carbohydrates from 29% to 16%, and increasing energy from proteins from 31% to 54%, Danish researchers from the University of Copenhagen were able to dampen these post-meal hormonal changes. Compared to the conventional diet, the high-protein diet reduced peak glucose concentration after eating the meal by 18% and reduced total insulin by 22%.

Two hormones involved in stimulating the body to produce insulin, glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide and glucagon-like peptide 1, also went up by 35% and 17% respectively, upon switching to a high-protein diet. While on the high-protein diet, participants also reported feeling fuller after the meal, meaning they were less likely to eat between meals.

Further research is nonetheless needed to evaluate whether these changes in blood hormones lead to improved patient health in the long term. However, sudden glucose spikes have been linked to complications including eye, kidney, and nerve damage, meaning it’s best to avoid glucose spikes where possible.

For those with type 2 diabetes, the researchers recommend shifting our diets to include fewer carbohydrates and more protein to reduce glucose excursions and help us better manage complications.

Written by Calvin J. Chan, B.Sc.

Reference: Samkani A., Skytee M.J., Kandel D., et al. (2018). A carbohydrate-reduced high-protein diet acutely decreases postprandial and diurnal glucose excursions in type 2 diabetes patients. British Journal of Nutrition. 119:910-917.

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