The Benefits of Protein for Diabetics

Occasionally swapping out sugar for protein may help lower high blood pressure, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that was reported by Reuters. But it's unclear whether the study participants' decrease in blood pressure came about because of reduced carbohydrate intake or added protein intake.

The randomized, double-blind study focused on 99 individuals with moderately high blood pressure. The overweight study participants who consumed a protein supplement saw an average drop of five points from their systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) vs. the participants who ate a supplement made with maltodextrin, a sweet carbohydrate. Lead study researcher Karianna Teunissen-Beekman of Maastricht University in the Netherlands notes that it's too soon to recommend that individuals change around their diets based on these results. It was unclear, she said, according to Reuters, whether it was the protein or the reduction of carbs that lowered the participants' blood pressure.

"We first want to get more insight into the biological mechanisms by which proteins lower blood pressure, or carbohydrates increase blood pressure, and the role of different protein and carbohydrate sources," Teunissen-Beekman said, according to Reuters.

The reduction in blood pressure also could have occurred if the individuals in the study lost weight due to reduced carbohydrate consumption, notes Alejandra Cordovez, RD, of the Diabetes Research Institute in Miami, Florida.

"Sugary drinks are usually high in calories," she says. "If they swapped in protein for sugary drinks they could have lost weight, which may have lowered their blood pressure."

Approximately two out of every three adults with diabetes have high blood pressure, and both the American Diabetes Association and the National Institutes of Health recommend a blood pressure target that is lower than 130/80. An individual with high blood pressure (also called hypertension) faces an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, and eye problems. Blood pressure can be controlled by diet, exercise, and medication.(Blood pressure measurement consists of two numbers. The first number, called the systolic pressure, is the pressure recorded as your heart pushes blood through the blood vessel. The diastolic, or second number, is the pressure when the blood vessels relax in between heartbeats.)

The takeaway message from the study? Consume a reasonable amount of good quality protein and eat a balanced diet, says Jessica Miller, RD, CDE, CDN, of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. "I encourage heart-healthy protein like chicken and turkey without the skin," she says. "Fish is a great protein, especially a heart-healthy fish like salmon."

But overall, Miller says, it's balance that is important. "Make sure you have the right balance of foods on your plate," she says. "That means one quarter of the plate should be filled with protein, one quarter with a starch, and half with non-starchy vegetables."

A serving of protein is three ounces (about the size of the palm of your hand, Miller points out), and ideally, it should not be fried. "You can take a really healthy piece of fish and bread and fry it, and it's not so healthy anymore," she says.



Teunissen-Beekman, Karianna et al. "Protein supplementation lowers blood pressure in overweight adults: effect of dietary proteins on blood pressure, a randomized trial." 22 February 2012. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition."

"High Blood Pressure: Living with Diabetes." American Diabetes Association.

Norton, Amy. "Swapping protein for sugar may help blood pressure." 23 March 2012. Reuters Health.