- Drinking a little protein before a meal may help keep blood sugar stable, a new study suggests.
- A couple shots of whey protein helped people with diabetes avoid blood sugar spikes in a recent trial.
- Protein slows digestion and increases hormones to help regulate blood sugar after eating and throughout the day.
A couple shots of whey protein before meals may help people with
control their blood sugar levels, suggests a small study published May 26 in BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care.
Researchers from Newcastle University in the UK conducted a randomized controlled trial involving 18 people with
type 2 diabetes
to test if a specially-designed pre-meal drink could prevent blood sugar spikes.
Participants were asked to consume a small pre-meal drink (about as much as two standard shot glasses), with either 15 grams of protein, or no protein as a control group. Participants were randomly assigned to drink either the test or the control about 10 minutes before each meal, three times a day, for a week.
The researchers found the protein shot helped participants stabilize their blood sugar levels for longer, buying them an extra two hours a day of normal blood sugar levels, compared to when they didn’t drink the protein.
Participants also had lower blood sugar levels on average throughout the day when drinking the protein, even though they didn’t otherwise change their daily habits.
The findings are the first to show that incorporating a protein drink can help participants manage their diabetes in a free-living scenario, outside a lab, according to Daniel West, senior author of the study and senior lecturer at Newcastle University.
“As we see growing numbers of people around the world developing diabetes, investigating the potential of alternatives to drugs such as food supplements becomes more important,” he said in a press release.
Protein may help balance blood sugar by regulating digestion
Previous research suggests that “pre-loading” protein before a meal helps regulate blood sugar and appetite.
It works by slowing digestion, so glucose (sugar) from carbohydrates is absorbed more slowly, and ramps up production of hormones to manage blood sugar levels, West said.
However, some prior studies found protein supplements to be inconvenient and unappetizing, since they involve having to mix and prepare the drink immediately before a meal, the researchers wrote.
Providing a ready-to-drink alternative may make the strategy easier to maintain, according to Kieran Smith, Newcastle University PhD student who oversaw the glucose monitoring and analyzed the data.
“People were able to stick to the regime and liked the idea of having a convenient, tasty, small pre-made drink that could be carried with them and taken before meals,” he said in the press release.
More research is needed to test the findings on a larger population and different demographics, and to determine if other types of protein such as plant-based supplements might also be effective, the researchers wrote.
Including protein with your meal can also help manage blood sugar and helps make you feel more full after eating, dietitians previously told Insider.