The Best Dietary Protein Sources for Diabetes

Food for Thought

For those with diabetes, the main priority is always responsibly managing blood glucose. Using a glucose meter means testing blood sugar levels throughout the day to keep these levels in check. A continuous glucose monitoring device is even more ideal for operating within a normal glycemic range.

In addition to these necessary devices, dietary choices will also impact how successful a diabetic individual will be in controlling his/her blood glucose levels.

For those with type 2 diabetes, increasing insulin sensitivity and preventing further insulin resistance is key. On the other hand, type 1 diabetics lack the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. However, both groups must make calculated dietary and insulin dosage choices to prevent complications associated with hypo/hyperglycemia.

Ultimately, both type 1 and type 2 diabetics should aim to use food as a means to assert healthy glycemic control, while utilizing technology to monitor glucose levels throughout the day.

Once you are able to view food as both fuel and a tool to utilize for health, you are much more likely to feel empowered in your diabetes management.

In this blog article, we will explore some of the healthiest protein sources to incorporate into your diet. You will learn the importance of protein in the body, what these sources are, and why they are beneficial for a diabetes-friendly diet.

Variety is the spice of life

You’ve probably heard of “eating the rainbow”, meaning that including a variety of nutrient-dense foods is vital for a balanced diet. It’s easy to think of using diet to manage diabetes as a chore, where you must always work to eliminate certain things from your diet. This mindset will often leave you feeling guilty, frustrated, and discouraged.

Instead, think of achieving balanced blood glucose levels as a process that involves adding new foods to your diet, and learning new ways to prepare favorite meals in a way that is diabetic-friendly.

Let’s take a look at some important foods that are powerful in contributing to insulin sensitivity, achieving healthy glycemic control, and supporting overall health for diabetics.

What are proteins and what do they do?

Macronutrients are the proteins, fats, and carbohydrates which make up the majority of our diet. Micronutrients, vitamins and minerals, are also essential despite making up a smaller portion of our diet. They impact the quality of various macronutrients (1).

You have probably heard of amino acids referred to as the “building blocks of life”. They make up proteins, and indeed are necessary for a remarkable amount of the biochemical reactions which take place in our bodies.

There are 21 different amino acids that are arranged to form various proteins, which in turn have various functions. Nine of these are labeled as “essential” because the human body cannot produce them on its own (2).

This is why it is vital to incorporate a variety of high quality protein sources in your diet. This way, you can ensure all the different amino acids needed are present.

These proteins function as antibodies to help the immune system, as enzymes to produce chemical reactions, as messengers to direct biological processes, as structural components for cells, and as transportation for molecules throughout the body (3).

Clearly, we not only rely on protein sources for life, but where we get our protein from directly impacts our health and quality of life.

Dietary protein also plays a role in insulin secretion (4). With this in mind, what are some healthy protein sources which help produce insulin and prevent insulin resistance?

Best Protein Sources to Include & Micronutrients in Each

  • Fish
    • Omega 3s, Vitamin D, Vitamin B2, Calcium, Phosphorous, Iodine (5)
  • Eggs
    • B12, B2, Vitamin D, Antioxidants, Choline (6)
  • Poultry
    • B6, Thiamin, Pantothenic Acid, Iron, Zinc, Copper (7)
  • Organ meats
    • B12, Folate, Iron, Magnesium, Selenium, Zinc, Vitmins A, D, E, K (8)
  • Nuts/Seeds:
    • Folate, Calcium, Magnesium, Niacin, B6, Fiber, Potassium (9)
  • Legumes
    • Iron, Magnesium, Copper, Manganese, Zinc, Potassium, Phosphorous, B Vitamins (10)
  • Tempeh/Tofu/Edamame
    • Iron, Omega 3, Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, Zinc (11)

These are some examples of protein sources that are not overly processed or high in fat, both of which have been shown to contribute to increased risk of type 2 diabetes (12). These sources of protein also contain significant amounts of micronutrients.

In addition, incorporating these foods into your diet will provide you all 21 types of amino acids, including the nine essentials. (13).

These foods will help the body produce insulin, without spiking blood sugar due to low carbohydrate content.

For type 1 diabetics, it is also important to ensure a healthy immune response due to the autoimmune nature of the disease. While there is no way to reverse the past effects of autoimmunity on insulin-producing cells, helping appropriately direct immune response is very important for overall health (14).

Also, healthy protein assists in transporting insulin throughout the body. The transportation function of protein helps insulin to efficiently and effectively reach its destination, improving insulin sensitivity (15).

Each individual is different, so be sure to monitor your glucose response to these foods using a blood glucose meter or cgm device. A continuous glucose monitor is ideal to track glucose trends in response to food, so you can get a better glycemic picture and more accurate insulin dosage.


Adequate protein is necessary to provide all the amino acids that are involved in a multitude of biochemical processes in the body. Not only that, but certain protein sources are more favorable than others due to the micronutrients, including vitamins and minerals, contained in each.

Fish, eggs, poultry, organ meats, nuts/seeds, legumes, and tempeh/tofu are some of the best high-quality sources of protein to incorporate into your diet. Look to incorporate unprocessed versions of these foods as they contain essential amino acids and have high nutrient content.

It is essential to consume a variety of protein-rich foods to make sure you are acquiring a diverse range of micronutrients. In addition, although all these protein sources have important amino acids by themselves, a varied diet is necessary to adequately obtain all 21 amino acids, and especially the 9 essential amino acids.

For those managing diabetes, it is important to know what protein sources are most favorable for maintaining balanced blood glucose levels and overall health, including immune support, insulin transportation, and insulin production.

Diet and technology are the two most essential tools for anyone living with diabetes. Making healthy dietary choices and then monitoring glucose response will ensure you are operating within a normal glycemic range and fostering a healthy lifestyle with diabetes.


1.Gelbke, N. (2018, October 27). The Macro Breakdown. Retrieved from
2.Kubala, J. (2018, June 12). Essential Amino Acids: Definition, Benefits and Food Sources. Healthline.
3.Alberts, B., Johnson, A., Lewis , J., & et al. (2002). Protein Function . In Molecular Biology of the Cell (4th ed.). New York , NY: Garland Science.
4.Rietman, A., Schwarz, J., Tomé, D., Kok, F. J., & Mensink, M. (2014). High dietary protein intake, reducing or eliciting insulin resistance? European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 68(9), 973–979. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2014.123
5.Leech, J. (2019, June 11). 11 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Eating Fish. Healthline.
6.What micronutrients do eggs contain and what do these do? – Two Chicks. (n.d.).
7.Marangoni, F., Corsello, G., Cricelli, C., Ferrara, N., Ghiselli, A., Lucchin, L., & Poli, A. (2015). Role of poultry meat in a balanced diet aimed at maintaining health and wellbeing: an Italian consensus document. Food & Nutrition Research, 59(1), 27606. doi: 10.3402/fnr.v59.27606
8.Coyle , D. (2017, April 20). Are Organ Meats Healthy. Healthline.
9.Ros, E. (2010). Health Benefits of Nut Consumption. Nutrients, 2(7), 652–682. doi: 10.3390/nu2070652
10.Oregon State University, Higdon , J., & Linus Pauling Institute. (2020, January 1). Legumes.
11.McGrane, K. (2020, January 30). 13 Complete Protein Sources for Vegetarians and Vegans. Healthline.
12.Rietman, A., Schwarz, J., Tomé, D., Kok, F. J., & Mensink, M. (2014).
13.ASN . (2011, March 22). Protein Completion . American Society for Nutrition.
14.Ebeling, P., Koistinen, H. A., & Koivisto, V. A. (1998). Insulin-independent glucose transport regulates insulin sensitivity. FEBS Letters, 436(3), 301–303. doi: 10.1016/s0014-5793(98)01149-1
15.Kugelberg, E. (2017). Microbiota: Diet can protect against type 1 diabetes. Nature Reviews Immunology, 17(5), 279


If you are not insured, or have a high deductible health insurance plan, you can still purchase the Freestyle Libre Reader and Sensors at extremely competitive prices. Prices starting as low as $99 per month

*Fingersticks are required for treatment decisions when you see Check Blood Glucose symbol, when symptoms do not match system readings when you suspect readings may be in accurate, or when you experience symptoms that may be due to high or low blood glucose.

Reference 1: Data on file. Abbott Diabetes Care. 2, FreeStyle Libre 14 day User’s Manual

Indications and Important Safety Information

FreeStyle Libre and FreeStyle Libre 14 day Flash Glucose Monitoring systems are continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) devices indicated for replacing blood glucose testing and detecting trends and tracking patterns aiding in the detection of episodes of hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia, facilitating both acute and long-term therapy adjustments in persons (age 18 and older) with diabetes. The systems are intended for single patient use and require a prescription.

CONTRAINDICATIONS: Remove the sensor before MRI, CT scan, X-ray, or diathermy treatment.

WARNINGS/LIMITATIONS: Do not ignore symptoms that may be due to low or high blood glucose, hypoglycemic unawareness, or dehydration. Check sensor glucose readings with a blood glucose meter when Check Blood Glucose symbol appears, when symptoms do not match system readings, or when readings are suspected to be inaccurate. The system does not have alarms unless the sensor is scanned, and the system contains small parts that may be dangerous if swallowed. The system is not approved for pregnant women, persons on dialysis, or critically-ill population. Sensor placement is not approved for sites other than the back of the arm and standard precautions for transmission of blood borne pathogens should be taken. The built-in blood glucose meter is not for use on dehydrated, hypotensive, in shock, hyperglycemic-hyperosmolar state, with or without ketosis, neonates, critically-ill patients, or for diagnosis or screening of diabetes. When using FreeStyle LibreLink app, access to a blood glucose monitoring system is required as the app does not provide one. Review all product information before use or contact Abbott Toll Free (855-632-8658) or visit for detailed indications for use and safety information.html. . FreeStyle, Libre, and related brand marks are trademarks of Abbott Diabetes Care Inc. in various jurisdictions. Other trademarks are the property of their respective owners. ©2018 Abbott. ADC-09691 vLO 10/18

*The FreeStyle LibreLink app and the FreeStyle Libre 14 day reader have similar but not identical features. Fingersticks are required for treatment decisions when you see Check Blood Glucose symbol, when symptoms do not match system readings, when you suspect readings may be inaccurate, or when you experience symptoms that may be due to high or low blood glucose.

The FreeStyle Libre 2 app and the FreeStyle Libre 2 reader have similar but not identical features. Fingersticks are required for treatment decisions when you see Check Blood Glucose symbol and when your glucose alarms and readings from the system do not match symptoms or expectations

‡‡‡Based on the sensor being replaced once every 14 days, and scanned at least once every 8 hours.

§§§Glucose readings are not available during 1-hour warm-up, when sensor is too hot or too cold, when you see an error or "LO" or "HI" message, or no current glucose reading