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Best Protein for People with Diabetes

Eating a diabetes-friendly diet isn’t just about controlling sugar (or carbohydrates) consumption. It’s about making healthy food choices to balance nutrient intake.

By: Kelly Atyeo-Fick, B.A.Sc., M.H.Sc., P.H.Ec.

People with diabetes need to control their blood sugar levels.  This is because their body has an issue with producing the hormone insulin, which signals the body to absorb sugar from the bloodstream into the body’s cells. The result is high blood sugar, which can lead to major heath complications, including:  heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, blindness and even amputation.1

The good news is that people living with diabetes can control their blood sugar levels by paying close attention to their diet.  If you have diabetes, this doesn’t mean completely depriving yourself of foods that you enjoy, but rather finding a balanced meal plan that works for you.

Eating a diabetes-friendly diet isn’t just about controlling sugar (or carbohydrates) consumption.  It’s about making healthy food choices to balance nutrient intake.

Part of the balancing act is making sure that healthy carbohydrates are eaten in moderation and at specific times so blood sugar levels are controlled.

Healthy Carbohydrates

Whole Grain breads and cereals, lentils, legumes, dried beans and peas, vegetables and fruits with the skin on are all healthy carbohydrate choices.2 This is because they are high in fibre, which may help keep you feeling full for longer and may lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels.2    Choosing these sources of carbohydrates instead of “simple sugars” like those found in candy, desserts, honey, jam, juices and pops are good choices.2

Healthy Proteins

Did you know: Chicken is considered one of the best protein choices for people with diabetes? In general, meats like chicken, turkey and beef do not contain any carbohydrates – which means they do not raise blood sugar levels. Therefore, by adding a high quality protein, such as chicken, to a meal, it can help with balancing blood sugar levels.3

The Canadian Diabetes Association recommends portioning out chicken to be the size of the palm of your hand and the thickness of your baby finger.4

Use Canadian chicken in any of the recipes listed below for a blend of healthy carbohydrates and high quality protein.  All of these recipes feature either vegetables or whole grains as a healthy carbohydrate source.   For people who have diabetes, making sure to portion control is important to have healthy meals fit into their diet.

Corsican Chicken Whole Grain Rotini

Roasted Chicken and Cauliflower Salad

Chicken and Cranberry Wild Rice Casserole

Plant-based proteins are also good options, however – be sure to check how much carbohydrates are in a serving.3 For example, chickpeas, lentils and beans all contain protein and carbs, so you’ll have to make sure if you’re adding these to your meals that your carbohydrates are in balance.

Healthy Fats

Like protein, fats typically don’t contain any carbohydrates so they don’t raise blood sugar levels – but the type of fat you eat does affect your health.  Eating too much fat can cause you to eat too many calories, which can lead to weight gain.5 Also, eating too much saturated fats and especially trans fats can negatively impact heart health.5  When following a healthy diabetes-friendly meal plan, fat should be eaten in moderation with a focus on lean meats.  Eating skinless chicken breast is one of the best ways to enjoy meat that’s not super high in fat.   Also, using cooking methods to make your food that doesn’t add fat is a good idea. This includes baking, grilling, boiling, poaching or roasting.

Some examples of flavourful diabetes-friendly chicken recipes that use these low fat cooking methods are:

Grilled Chicken with Pea Shoots & Greens

Tandoori Chicken

Express Lemon Roasted Chicken

Chicken Rolls with Julienned Vegetables

There are several approaches to tailoring the diabetes-friendly diet that works best for you.  If you need some guidance, consult a Registered Dietitian or health care professional.  Have fun experimenting with making tasty and healthy diabetes-friendly meals for your family.  You’ll see that there are endless possibilities!


1. Canadian Diabetes Association. (2016). Diabetes and You: Complications. Retrieved June 2, 2016, from http://www.diabetes.ca/diabetes-and-you/complications

2. Canadian Diabetes Association. (2016). Basic Meal Planning. Retrieved June 2, 2016, from http://www.diabetes.ca/diabetes-and-you/healthy-living-resources/diet-nutrition/basic-meal-planning

3. American Diabetes Association. (2016). Protein Foods. Retrieved June 2, 2016, from http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/making-healthy-food-choices/meat-and-plant-based-protein.html

4. Canadian Diabetes Association. (2016). Portion Guide. Retrieved June 2, 2016, from http://www.diabetes.ca/diabetes-and-you/healthy-living-resources/diet-nutrition/portion-guide

5. Diabetes UK. (2016). Fats and Diabetes. Retrieved June 2, 2016, from https://www.diabetes.org.uk/Guide-to-diabetes/Enjoy-food/Eating-with-diabetes/Food-groups/fats-and-diabetes/



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