Diabetes Self-Management Blog

The goal of last week’s protein post was to “refresh” your memory about protein: what it does, where it’s found, and how much you need. That being said, the subject of protein is hot enough to fuel debates regarding who needs more and what’s the best way to get it.

As I mentioned last week, there are some people who do need more protein, namely endurance athletes, people who are ill or malnourished, and older adults. Most of us, though, don’t need a whole lot more protein than what’s recommended to stay healthy. And we already know that since we don’t need all that much, we tend to get more than enough from our daily food intake.

However, if, for whatever reason, you don’t think you’re getting enough protein and/or you don’t happen to care for the usual protein food sources (meat, poultry, fish, eggs), then it’s possible that you could benefit from a supplement. And here’s the tricky part, because trying to choose a protein supplement is about as daunting as deciding what flavor ice cream to order is for a child. There are so many choices and so many forms of supplements. This week, we’ll look at one of the most popular supplements: whey.

Whey Protein
What it is: “Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet, eating her curds and whey…” Do you remember that nursery rhyme? The whey that Miss Muffet was enjoying at the time is the same whey that’s commonly found in today’s protein drinks and powders. Whey is one of the two main proteins found in milk and it makes up about 20% of milk protein (casein makes up the other 80%).

Drilling down a little more, there are three types of whey protein: whey isolate, whey concentrate, and hydrolysate whey protein. Each type of whey protein contains different amounts of fat, cholesterol, lactose, and bioactive compounds. The hydrolysate whey protein is the best absorbed of the three. Most whey supplements contain a combination of the three. Whey is a byproduct of cheese making; the curd is the casein and the liquid is the whey.

Benefits: Of all the types of protein that we ingest, whey protein is the best absorbed. Reasons to ingest whey protein include the fact that it contains branched chain amino acids that help build and maintain muscle — more so than egg, casein, or soy protein. Whey protein helps support a healthy immune system. And it also contains the amino acid leucine, which may help prevent the loss of muscle mass associated with aging.

It’s also possible that whey protein, which is digested more slowly than carbohydrate, may help control appetite. A study published in the journal Nutrition and Metabolism in 2008 showed that subjects who drank two 10-gram whey protein shakes each day lost more body fat over 12 weeks than subjects who didn’t drink the shakes, likely because the whey drinks helped the subjects stay full (and therefore eat less).What about diabetes? A study published in Diabetes Care in 2009 found that whey protein helped lower blood glucose levels by slowing down digestion and increasing insulin sensitivity. In another study, published in Nutrition Journal, subjects were given a sugary drink with different amounts of whey protein. The 20-gram dose of whey was 1.7 times more effective than the control group (who drank no whey protein) in decreasing spikes in glucose. Whey protein was also found, in yet another study, to lower triglycerides (blood fats).

Should you take it? Whey protein is a high-quality protein, meaning that it contains all the essential amino acids required by the body. It’s quickly and efficiently absorbed when ingested. Athletes may be advised to take up to 50 grams of whey protein each day to help support lean muscle mass and the immune system; others probably only need about 20 grams per day. There are claims that whey protein may be helpful for those following a low-calorie diet for weight loss (the jury is still out on that).

It’s possible that whey protein can be helpful to you in managing your diabetes. If you’re thinking about taking whey protein, talk with your health-care team, especially if you have any kidney or liver problems. Some whey protein supplements may contain lactose (obviously not good if you’re lactose intolerant), so if that’s an issue, you’d want to choose a whey protein isolate. Also, avoid these supplements if you have a milk allergy. Whey protein may interact with certain medicines, including levodopa (brand name Sinemet and others), alendronate (Fosamax), and some antibiotics. Also, children and pregnant or breastfeeding women should probably not take whey without first checking with their health-care provider. Keep in mind that the FDA does not regulate protein supplements, either.

You may need to go to your local health-food store to purchase whey protein, usually in powder form. Some medical nutritional supplements contain whey protein, but they’re often not available in retail stores. For a list of whey protein supplements, visit the Whey Protein Institute’s Web site at www.wheyoflife.org.

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Comments
  1. I just got a container of whey protein to try for weight loss, and to see if it will help me exercise better. I’ll keep you posted if it helps me.

    Posted by Mike Williams |
  2. Great! Thanks, Mike. I’ll be curious to learn what you find out.

    Posted by acampbell |
  3. My son is 21 yrs old and takes whey protein to increase muscle mass I am worry about his kidneys
    when he gets older, should I be?

    Posted by Estella GArcia |
  4. Hi Estella,

    The answer depends on how much whey protein your son takes, as well as his overall health. Most healthy people can tolerate larger amounts of protein than is needed, but if there are any kidney or liver issues, for example, too much protein wouldn’t be good for him.

    Posted by acampbell |
  5. Hello..

    Any ideas of what protein source to use ? or brand? I heard that hemp was a complete protein that is completely animal product free. Also something organic with no GMO or just grassfed so there is less antibiotics and such?

    Thanks

    Amy

    Posted by amy |
  6. Hi Amy,

    The answer to your question depends, in part, on why you’re taking a protein supplement. Hemp protein is a complete protein and is animal-free. One drawback is its taste. Whey protein, as I mentioned in my post, has certain potential benefits that hemp protein may not have. Also, you should be able to find supplements that are organic and non-GMO by doing a search on the internet.

    Posted by acampbell |
  7. Hi I’m Nataia. I heard from someone that taking protein power causes you to get suger diebeties. Is that true or False? Why?

    Posted by nataia smith |
  8. Hi nataia,

    No, protein powders do not cause diabetes, nor does any food. Type 2 diabetes, which is the more common type, tends to run in the family, and can also be “triggered” by being overweight, not doing enough physical activity, and having high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol. Also, certain ethnic groups are at high risk for diabetes, including African-Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans and Hispanic Americans. The amount of food that you eat is important, however, in that, if you eat more than what your body burns off during the day, you may gain weight (or be unable to lose weight, if you need to), and that may also increase your risk for getting diabetes.

    Posted by acampbell |
  9. Hi my names Joel. I’m a type 1 insulin dependent diabetic. I’m 6ft tall, 183 pounds. I have no liver and kidney problems. I was looking into taking a protein suplument but am not sure if I should.. I work out about 2.5 hours a day 4-5 times a week. I want to gain about 12 pounds to reach 195 pounds. I want to know if theres any complications that would come from this? And if not how many grams a day should I take? Thanks Joel llanos

    Posted by joel |
  10. Hi Joel,

    It’s probably safe for you to take a protein supplement, but I wouldn’t overdo it. Taking an additional 25 grams of protein each day is likely to be safe. Too much protein can be taxing to the kidneys (even if yours are healthy), and can lead to dehydration and loss of calcium. Focus on gaining weight by increasing calories from a variety of food sources, rather than just protein.

    Posted by acampbell |
  11. Hello i have type 2 Diabetes and i started using a Whey Protein powder today, im doing so because i need to work out more and physical activity can lower a diabetics blood sugar fast, one day after a meal i went for a 30 minute walk and when i returned i felt fine, i should have gotten something to eat or drink after the walk but got busy on the computer and my blood sugar dropped low. So i figure if i sip on a protein drink while walking, or working out that will prevent the lows. Well we will see atleast. By the way i was diagnosed with a A1C of 7.0 i brought it down to a 5.9 in 3 months through diet alone and losing 7 pounds. Do you think a protein drink would be beneficial for me?

    Posted by Gisele |
  12. Hi Gisele,

    Congratulations on lowering your A1C — that’s very impressive! A protein drink may be helpful as long as you are counting the calories and fitting it into a balanced eating plan. However, protein drinks (or protein of any kind) will not be helpful in treating a low blood glucose level. You should always treat low blood glucose levels with a source of carbohydrate, such as juice, glucose tablets, or regular soda, to quickly bring up your blood glucose. Protein will not do this.

    Posted by acampbell |
  13. Hi
    I’m in a simular situation as Joel, 182 pounds, i train at rowing/gym 5 times per wk but i dont’t to gain weight just want to tone up more,my trainer suggested 100% whey protein. I am T1 diabetic, would you recommend this?

    Posted by Ray Murray |
  14. I was diagnosed Last Sept. With Type 2 diabetes. I have lowered my A1C from 7.4 to 5.2 thru excersise and weight loss. I have lost 60 pounds and have 50 more to loose. I want to start to increase my muscle mass and was told a whey protein was best..just not how much. I eat about 3 oz. of lean protein with my 3 main meals and am wondering if I have a recovery protein shake after working out how much protein is safe? I have no kidney or liver issues and my cholesterol is back in the normal range also.When I excersise it is for 1 to 2.5 ours depending on the day and I try to get to the gym 4-5 days a week.I have found a protein shot with 120 cal. and 26g. of protein and take it in place of my late afternoon snack.What would you recommend is the best amount?

    Posted by Jen Bailey |
  15. I am having acute pancreatitis secoundary due to alcohol consuption …
    If I start whey protine it ill good to me or it ill harm my kidney ..!!!
    I don’t have any kidney problem …
    Few month ago I have liver infection but now its fine …!!!

    Posted by kalpesh |
  16. Hi kalpesh,

    I don’t think the whey protein would be harmful unless you took too much of it. But to be on the safe side, you should check with your doctor before using it.

    Posted by acampbell |
  17. hi my name is adnan and i am diabetic. i do my work out daily in the gym. i am 80kg in weight and 5.7′ in hight, i want to increase the mass of my size. i am diabetic and i take my medicince daily. i use tablets glucophage to control my blood sugar level, i want to ask that if i have a control sugar and i go to gym daily or alternate days and take whey protein for mass increase so is it sutible for me to take whey protiens.please give a sutible answer so that i should take it or not

    Posted by adnan hussain |
  18. Hello , my name is Mohammed , I am suffering of disease ( type 2 ) and Im taking Insulin dose 2 time a day . I take protein shake that contain a large amount of calories , My question is Do this protein affects the kidneys ?

    Thank you .

    Posted by Mohammed |
  19. Hi Mohammed,

    Consuming protein does not cause kidney problems. However, if you have kidney issues or kidney disease, eating (or drinking) too much protein might put more stress on your kidneys. But because diabetes puts you at risk for kidney problems, you should make sure that your kidney function is checked at least once a year. Your doctor can do this by ordering a microalbumin test and calculating your eGFR.

    Posted by acampbell |
  20. Hi

    I am 24 yrs old , from India and having Type 1 Diabetes from last 2 yrs. In these 2 yrs. 3 times it happened that my diabetes got normal by taking homeopathy medicine, i do not required insulin but after 1-2 months i again got insulin dependent
    I used to.do gym 2 yrs back regularly , i.am vegetarian so i used to take whey.protein as well and currently desperate to.get my physique back in shape. Its been 20 days around and am.planning to take Whey Protein. Will that be fine with me ? I do.not.have any other health issue other than type1 diabetes . Doing exercise and diet.control am.able.to.control my sugar as well and 2-3 days a week am able.to.skip my insulin as well.

    Kindly suggest me for whey.protein in my situation should i take or not ?

    Thank you

    Posted by Karan Rastogi |
  21. Hi Karan,

    I think it’s probably fine to take whey protein, as long as you don’t take too much. As I mentioned above, taking about 20 grams of whey protein per day for most people is likely okay.

    Posted by acampbell |
  22. Hi,

    I just wanted to know is it good to take sugar less whey or regular one.

    Will we get diabetes if we take whey. will it effect pancreas?

    Posted by Srikanth |
  23. Hi Srikanth,

    No, taking whey protein does not cause diabetes. Whey protein should not have much sugar, or carbohydrate, so it’s probably not necessary to use the sugar-free version. However, you should read the label and see how much carbohydrate is in one serving. Ideally, the amount of carbohydrate per serving should be under about 5 grams.

    Posted by acampbell |
  24. Hi i am Diabetic and my Fasting count is 102 and post food comes 110-120. I have been able tomaintain it. however now i want to be fitter,healthy,lean and ofcourse have a good physique.
    i have started work outs and the doc is fine with weight training. i want to use whey protien to enhance results and have heard a lot abt its good effects. pls dolet me know
    1. is it safe for a diabetic to consume whey.
    2. how much pre and post workout shall i consume.
    3. can i use the option without sugar. how different is it.

    Regards,
    Ananth

    Posted by ananth |
  25. Hi i want to now that is whey protein/soy protein is good for older age person near about 78 age and have a diabetes and kidney stone plz guide me .

    Posted by ashish |
  26. Hi ashish,

    Someone who has kidney stones should be very careful about using protein supplements, especially animal-based protein like whey or egg. Too much protein may lead to the development of kidney stones. I’d advise you to first check with your doctor if you are thinking of using whey or soy protein.

    Posted by acampbell |
  27. Hi,
    Im type 2 diabetic, I started doing weight training workout. Someone kindly suggest me which whey protein is good for me to build muscle mass.

    Posted by Vijay |
  28. Hii, I’m A 16 Year Old, Type 1 Diabetic Diagnosed With Ketones In 2011. I’m About 5′10 and My Weight Is 57 Kgs. I Regularly Workout For 2 Hours. I Wanna Bulk Up My Muscles And Target Weight Is 65 Kgs. Is Whey Protein Recommended? Please Advice.

    Posted by Tibet |
  29. Hi Tibet,

    Taking whey protein could be an option for you, but the amount you should take depends on how much protein you get from the foods that you eat. I’d suggest that you talk to your doctor or a dietitian about how to best use whey protein as a supplement.

    Posted by acampbell |
  30. Hi Vijay,

    You might find it helpful to visit the Whey of Life website at http://www.wheyoflife.org/types.

    Posted by acampbell |
  31. I’m type 2 diabetic I use Metformin 500mg with ramipril please can I use whey protein and how much grams can I use a day

    Posted by tony |
  32. Hello
    My father 63 is a diabetic. He is a vegetarian. He is getting weak and skinny day by day. I suggested him to take nuts and can I also suggest to take whey protein? He don’t do muscle building or work out but he does go for a regular walk. Can he take whey protein/glutamine one scoop a day? Please suggest.
    Regards
    Sajan

    Posted by sajan |
  33. Hi tony,

    Whey protein should be safe for you to use as long as you don’t have any particular health issues, such as kidney disease, for example. If you’re not sure, it’s always a good idea to ask your doctor. Suggested doses can vary, depending on the reason for taking whey protein (weight control, diabetes control, bodybuilding, etc.). It’s likely safe to perhaps start with 20–30 grams of whey protein per day. Again, I’d suggest you let your doctor know if you do start taking this.

    Posted by acampbell |
  34. Hi
    I take “serious mass” weight gainer protein shakes a few times a day because it helps me gain weight; but im not sure if this is bad for my health? I recently had tinea versicolor and read this online “Repeated yeast or fungal infections warrant MD visit and workup w blood glucose levels/diabetes as first thought. If not, then underlying illness emerging” is this true? if so i will sop the protein shakes.

    Posted by David Ward |
  35. Hi David,

    According to the Merck Manual, tinea versicolor may result from a number of factors including heat, humidity, and diabetes. You don’t mention if you have diabetes, but if you have any concerns, it’s best to talk with your doctor. In terms of the protein shakes, it’s possible that they are affecting your blood sugar levels (assuming that they contain some carbohydrate). If you’re consuming them in addition to eating your usual meals/snacks and you have diabetes or even prediabetes, then these shakes may not be the best choice for you. Alternately, you may need to cut down on them. So, talk with your doctor about diabetes. You might find it useful to meet with a dietitian, as well, to review your eating plan.

    Posted by acampbell |

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