Type 2 diabetes afflicts an estimated 28 million Americans. Many more—perhaps 85 million—have prediabetes, meaning that their blood sugar level is abnormal. For both diabetics and prediabetics, eating strategically is essential. The right diet can help those with diabetes manage their blood sugar and help prediabetics lower the risk of developing full-blown type 2 diabetes.Dietary protein can be advantageous for people grappling with blood sugar issues. It increases satiety, that feeling of being full. “A lot of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight so dealing with hunger is a concern,” confirms Amy Campbell, R.D., a certified diabetes educator in Boston. “Foods high in protein fill them up, so they’re more able to stick to a healthy eating plan.”One recently published study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at men who ate roughly four eggs a week versus those who ate only one egg a week. The former group had 40 percent less chance of developing type 2 diabetes compared to the infrequent egg-eaters. The “why” isn’t clear. “The authors think that the nutrients in eggs help improve glucose metabolism and maybe put a stop to inflammation,” says Campbell. “It may be the choline in eggs. We don’t know much about it yet, but it’s promising.”Protein also helps preserve lean muscle mass, critical for diabetics who are trying to shed pounds. “We want people to lose fat, not lean muscle,” says Campbell. “The more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn, even at rest. By upping protein intake, dieters can lose weight but not healthy muscle tissue.”Many diabetics find that eating frequent small meals, rather than a few large ones, helps prevent blood sugar spikes and control hunger. Research supports that, says Campbell. A high-protein, low-carb snack like a boiled egg makes a convenient and strategic choice. “It is portion controlled for you,” says Campbell. “You’re not reaching into a bag of chips.”Diabetics and pre-diabetics don’t need to eliminate carbohydrates, but they do need to choose them wisely. “People think, ‘Carbs are bad. I should be on a no-carb diet,’” says Campbell. “But it’s important to eat a variety of foods.” Dietitians like Campbell focus on helping people select higher quality carbs: whole-grain bread, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, fresh fruit, yogurt, low-fat milk, and legumes. Pairing these “good” carbs with high-quality protein, like eggs, makes all sorts of great meals possible.Think about an omelet stuffed with vegetables, or a green salad with chick peas, roasted peppers, and boiled eggs. Toss whole-wheat linguine with arugula and a poached egg, or stir-fry brown rice with asparagus, green onions, and eggs. Even desserts don’t have to be off-limits if they include protein and higher quality carbs. A whole-grain bread pudding with fruits and nuts could fit in many diabetic meal plans. Serve in small portions for dessert and enjoy the remainder in the morning.
Featured recipe: Packed with high-quality protein and “smart” carbs, Baked Egg Muffins with Black Beans, Roasted Peppers, Tomato, Quinoa, Swiss Chard, and Ricotta meet the dietary needs of diners with blood-sugar issues.