Protein-Rich Lunch Ideas for People with Diabetes

Protein has become the recent health buzzword. As a result, the amount of protein one should consume is now a constant dietary question. Although the American Diabetes Association (ADA) does not prescribe an exact amount of protein, if you currently consume less than 15-20% of your calories from protein, you must try to up it. For example, if you consume 2,000 calories a day, protein should account for approximately 300-400 calories or 75-100 grams. Therefore, your lunch should be protein-rich and pleasurable like all other meals. In addition, you should include foods from at least three food groups (vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy/calcium-rich foods) to help make a balanced lunch.

You take your lunch several hours after breakfast when focus and concentration are waning. Protein re-energises your body and can raise blood sugar levels. So if you’re feeling tired, even a small meal during lunch can boost energy and make you feel ready to take on more. Furthermore, eating lunch keeps your metabolism active, particularly if you have a moderate-sized meal plus a snack before and after.

How Much Protein Should You Consume?

The amount of protein you require depends on your age, gender, health, and level of physical activity. For example, people with diabetes should consume around the same protein as the general population, accounting for 15-20% of their daily calories (typically 0.8-1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day). 

Suppose you don’t keep track of your total daily calories; you can use the kilogramme calculation to ensure you’re getting adequate protein. To begin, multiply your weight in pounds by 2.2. For example, if you weigh 170 pounds, you weigh 77 kilograms (rounded off). That is also the minimal amount of protein in grams for you. Then multiply 77 by 1.5 to achieve a maximum daily protein intake of 116 grams. Consider the following example:

  • Each day, a 170-pound person would consume 77-116 grams of protein. 
  • Each day, a 200-pound person would consume 90-136 grams of protein.

Protein and Diabetes Management

The diabetes diet’s essential principles have mostly remained unchanged over time. Still, as science advances, we learn about new approaches to help manage the disease even more effectively. For example, people with diabetes should continue to limit their intake of refined carbohydrates (which raise blood sugar quickly). Instead, they should focus on high-fibre complex carbohydrates (whole-wheat bread, brown rice, and whole-wheat pasta). In addition, non-starchy vegetables and lean protein help maintain blood sugar balance.

Weight Loss

Another important aspect is that a high-protein diet helps diabetes management by improving blood sugar control. In addition, it helps lose weight by lowering post-meal blood sugar rise. Furthermore, it keeps you satiated, which helps minimise overeating and prevent weight gain. To get the most out of protein, spread the intake throughout the day rather than cramming it in at supper. A 1,200 calories per day plan promotes weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week. However, for most individuals, it is too few calories. Therefore, you can look at 1,500 and 2,000 calories per day based on your needs. Increased exercise, more home-cooked food and avoiding sugary drinks are all lifestyle changes you can adopt.

Insulin Resistance (Debatable)

Insulin resistance occurs when tissues are no longer susceptible to insulin’s physiological activities, such as glucose uptake. When tissues are persistently overexposed to high amounts of insulin, the insulin-mediated absorption of glucose reduces. As a result, long-term hyperinsulinemia can result in insulin resistance and, eventually, type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance happens due to various lifestyle factors, including lack of physical activity and unhealthy food. 

Many diet plans are good for weight loss and improved insulin sensitivity. For example, diets high in protein and low in carbohydrates, such as the Atkins or Zone diets. These diets help improve body composition and weight loss. On the other hand, the effects of high-protein diets on insulin sensitivity are debatable.

Dietary proteins have an insulinotropic impact, promoting insulin production. As a result, they increase blood glucose clearance. However, you must consume proteins in moderation and should not go overboard. Furthermore, branched-chain amino acids (BCAA), a popular amino acid category that makes up a large portion of dietary protein, have recently been linked to diabetes. However, in terms of the influence of protein intake on insulin sensitivity and diabetes risk, observational data and intervention trials have not yet found a solid explanation.

Protein-Rich Lunch for Diabetes: What to Include

Non-Starchy Vegetables

You should consume non-starchy veggies in large quantities. According to the American Diabetes Association research, diets focused chiefly on plant-based foods, such as Mediterranean, vegan, and vegetarian diets, show benefits for diabetes, weight loss, and blood pressure.

Non-starchy vegetables are high in fibre and have a lower impact on blood sugar than starchy vegetables. Some healthy non-starchy vegetables include lettuce, kale, cabbage, pak choi, spinach, rocket, watercress, bell peppers, green beans, zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms,  cauliflower and broccoli. For example, studies show that consuming broccoli sprouts leads to blood glucose reduction in diabetic people.

Fatty Fish

A study shows that diabetic people who consumed fatty fish had improved post-meal blood sugar levels. Fatty fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids that help fight inflammatory proteins in the body. As a result, it reduces inflammation associated with diabetes and regulates blood sugar levels. Eating three servings of fatty fish like salmon or mackerel per week is sufficient to reap health benefits.

Eggs

It is no secret that eggs are highly nutritious. In addition, one large egg offers about 6-7 grams of protein. Egg whites are considered a source of pure protein. Furthermore, eggs have a low glycemic index score, making them suitable for diabetic people.

Quinoa

A diabetes conscious meal plan is incomplete without quinoa. This whole grain in cooked form offers 4.4 grams of protein per 100 grams. Not to mention, it serves as a plant-based protein for vegetarians and vegans. Cooked quinoa also delivers 2.8 grams of dietary fibre per 100 grams.

Almonds

Besides being a storehouse of heart-healthy fats, almonds are also a source of protein. Eating 8-10 soaked almonds will provide approximately 3 grams of protein. Additionally, a study has reported that consuming almonds improves glycemic control in patients diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Although almonds are high in calories, they don’t cause weight gain, especially when you eat them in moderation.

Black Beans

Black beans are a versatile protein food that you can add to almost everything. For example, you can incorporate it into soups, taco filling with chicken, salads, or use them into dips. In addition, eating more black beans will boost the protein-fibre levels in your body. They provide 21 grams of protein per 100 grams serving.

Protein-Rich Lunch for Diabetes: What to Avoid

Diabetes-friendly meals, be it breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snacks, should be balanced with proteins, fats, fibre, and even healthy complex carbohydrates. However, one should be cautious about limiting refined carbs, added sugars, foods with high glycemic index and other processed additives. 

Here are the top foods you should avoid in a diabetes-focused meal.

  • Refined grains like white rice, pasta, and white bread
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages like soda, diet coke, cola, sweet tea, and energy drinks
  • Fried foods like chips, french fries, deep-fried chicken, mozzarella sticks
  • Alcoholic drinks and clarified fruit juices

Diabetes-Friendly Protein-Rich Lunch Recipes

Cauliflower Moong Dal

  • Servings: 2
  • Preparation time: 60 minutes

Ingredients

  • Yellow Moong Dal: ½ cup
  • Oil-1 tsp
  • Cauliflower: ½ cup
  • Turmeric powder: 1 tsp
  • Green Chillies: 3
  • Cumin powder: 1 tbsp
  • Onion (chopped): 1
  • Tomatoes: 2
  • Giner (minced): 1
  • Coriander (Dhania) Leaves: 2 tbsp
  • Garam masala powder: 1 tsp
  • Salt to taste

Method:

  1. Wash and soak dal for 20-30 minutes.
  2. Pressure cook soaked dal with pinch of salt and turmeric powder for 3-4 whistles.
  3. Heat oil in a pan.
  4. Once hot add finely chopped green chilli, minced ginger and saute for a few seconds.
  5. Add chopped onions and saute for 4-5 minutes or until light brown.
  6. Then add chopped cauliflower and cook for 5-7 minutes.
  7. Add chopped tomatoes, turmeric powder, cumin powder, garam masala and salt.
  8. Cook until tomatoes turn soft and mushy
  9. Add cooked dal along with water and bring it to a boil.
  10. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves and serve hot.

Tofu Scramble

  • Servings: 1
  • Preparation time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • Oil: 1 tsp
  • Tofu cubes: ½ cup
  • Tomatoes: ½ cup
  • Onions: ½ cup
  • Bell peppers: ¼ cup
  • Lemon juice: 2 tbsp
  • Pepper and salt to taste

Method

  1. Heat oil in a pan. 
  2. Add the chopped onions, bell pepper and cook for 4-5 minutes.
  3. Add chopped tomatoes and cook until they turn soft.
  4. Crumble the tofu and combine with the vegetables. 
  5. Pour some water to cook the mixture, add salt and pepper as per taste. 
  6. Cook for 5 minutes to allow the flavours to come together, then drizzle with lemon juice and serve hot.  

Black Bean and Corn Salad

  • Servings: 2
  • Preparation time: 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • Black beans (cooked and drained): 1 cup
  • Boiled Corn kernels ½ cup
  • Avocado (peeled, pitted and diced): 1
  • Red bell pepper, chopped: 1
  • Tomatoes (chopped): 2
  • Green onions (thinly sliced): 3
  • Fresh lime juice: 1 tbsp
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Combine the cooked beans and corn with avocado, bell pepper, tomatoes, and green onions in a salad bowl.
  2. Drizzle lime juice, sprinkle salt and pepper. 
  3. Stir salad to coat vegetables and beans well, and serve.

Chicken Veggie Stir-Fry

  • Servings: 2
  • Preparation time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • Oil- 1 tbsp
  • Chicken breast (half cooked and shredded): 1 cup
  • Carrots: 1 cup
  • Broccoli: 2 cups
  • Garlic cloves (minced): 2
  • Medium zucchini: 1
  • Jalapeño pepper: 1
  • Lime juice: 2 tbsp
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Heat oil in a pan, add chopped vegetables and stir fry until the vegetables are crisp-tender.
  2. Add the shredded chicken to the vegetables and pour the lime juice over it. 
  3. Add salt, pepper and mix well.
  4. Stir fry for 5-7 more minutes or until the chicken is done.
  5. Serve hot with cooked brown rice. 

Black Bean and Chicken Soup

  • Servings: 2
  • Preparation time: 15-20 minutes

Ingredients

  • Low sodium chicken broth: 2 cups
  • Tomatoes (Diced): 1 cup
  • Cooked Black beans: 1 cup
  • Chicken breast (shredded): 1 cup
  • Spinach (chopped): 1 cup
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method 

  1. In a large saucepan, combine chicken broth, tomatoes and black beans. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
  2. Stir in shredded chicken and spinach. Add salt and pepper as per taste. 
  3. Cook for 5-7 minutes and serve hot.

Other Tips to Control Diabetes

Avoid Stress

Stress can cause blood sugar levels to rise. Learn how to manage your stress. Deep breathing, gardening, going for a stroll, meditating, working on a hobby, or listening to music can all help you relax. If you’re feeling sad, seek assistance. A mental health counsellor, support group, friend, or family member who will listen to your worries may be able to assist you in feeling better.

Eat well

Make a diabetes meal plan with the help of an expert. Reduce your calorie intake, saturated fat, trans fat, sugar, and salt intake. Instead of juice or ordinary Coke, drink water. When eating a meal, half of your plate should be fresh vegetables, one quarter should be lean protein like beans or skinless chicken or turkey, and one quarter should be a healthy grain like brown rice, millet or whole-wheat pasta.

Participate in Physical Activities

Make it a point to be more active five days a week. Start by taking three 10-minute walks every day. Twice a week, work on developing your muscle strength. Stretch bands, yoga, heavy gardening (digging and planting with tools) and push-ups are excellent exercises. In addition, you can maintain or reach a healthy weight by following your diet plan and increasing your physical activity.

Conclusion

When diabetes is not well managed, it worsens the conditions and induces a chain of health complications. Eating right is the first step towards proper diabetes management. Following a protein-rich diet helps keep blood sugar levels in check. Do not go overboard with a high protein diet as it might become counterproductive. Consult a certified nutritionist to determine how much protein you can consume each day and at each meal. Protein is one of the most critical factors in healthy blood sugar management, but you must complement your diet with regular exercise and healthy lifestyle choices.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. Can diabetics consume protein shakes?

A. Yes, protein shakes are a suitable drink for diabetes as they boost protein and keep you full. Protein shakes are similar to supplements that help maintain stable blood glucose levels, beneficial for diabetics and people who want to improve their body composition. Still, it’s best if the patient chooses a protein powder brand with fewer carbs and no added sugars. 

Q. What are the best proteins for diabetics?

A. The American Diabetes Association suggests eating fish at least twice or thrice a week as a protein source. Other protein sources are skinless poultry, legumes, nuts, non-starchy vegetables, eggs, tofu, and quinoa. 

Q. How much protein should a diabetic eat a day?

A. Only people with diabetes and chronic renal disease should consume protein at a 0.8-1 g/kg rate. You should not reduce protein intake to less than 1 g/kg of body weight in other diabetic patients. People with diabetes should calculate protein intake as grams per kilogram of bodyweight rather than a fixed percentage of total energy consumption.  

Q. Are eggs good for diabetics? 

A. Eggs are a high-protein, low-carbohydrate food with a low glycemic index. As a result, they’re a fantastic source of protein for people with diabetes. In addition, if a food has a low glycemic index, it does not negatively impact a person’s blood sugar levels. Thus, eggs have no severe side effects on diabetic patients’ sugar levels. 

Q. What are the best drinks for diabetics?

A. Healthy drinks without added sugars and fewer carbs-  ideal for diabetes. For example, people may choose water, herbal teas, plant milk,  lemon water without sugar and buttermilk. 

Q. Will eating protein help lower blood sugar? 

A.When you add protein to a carb-based meal or snack, your blood glucose level will drop. However, protein does alter blood sugar levels. Furthermore, nutritionists advocate eating protein-rich foods with a carb-heavy snack and eating protein before bed to decrease carb digestion and absorption into the bloodstream. Since the research is limited and contradictory, you should always consult your doctor or an expert nutritionist before adding them to your diet.

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