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What Are Good Sources of Protein for Diabetics?

By Catherine Cox

If you have diabetes, look for heart-healthy protein sources that are low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. People with diabetes have a three- to four-fold higher risk for heart disease than people without the condition. To lower heart disease risk, the American Diabetes Association’s nutrition guidelines for diabetes recommend limiting saturated fat to less than 7 percent of the total calories consumed on a given day and cholesterol to no more than 200 milligrams daily. Choose fresh meats over processed to limit sodium intake. Keep sodium intake to no more than 1,500 milligrams daily to improve blood pressure levels, which also tend to be higher in people with diabetes.


Fish is a good source of protein for those with diabetes. Fish contains high-quality protein and is low in saturated fat. Fatty fish provide primarily heart-healthy polyunsaturated fat. The ADA and American Heart Association recommend that you include two or more servings weekly of cold-water fish. A serving size is 3.5 ounces cooked or 3/4 cup flaked fish. Fatty fish in particular is rich in the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, which can decrease your risk of developing heart disease. Omega-3 sources that are also low in mercury include salmon, canned light tuna, shrimp, pollock and catfish.


Poultry is also a high-quality protein. Choose white meat chicken or turkey, such as the breast meat, and remove the skin to limit saturated fat and cholesterol intake. Use heart-healthy cooking techniques such as baking, broiling, grilling or poaching.

Soy Products

Soy protein is naturally low in fat and cholesterol-free. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee reports that 25 grams soy protein daily has been shown to lower total and LDL cholesterol. Products that contain at least 6.25 grams soy protein can make a label claim that they lower cholesterol. Examples include 3.5 ounces of soy flour; 4 ounces of whole soybeans, tofu or tempeh; or 8 ounces of soy milk or textured soy protein.


Legumes, or dried peas and beans, are a lean protein source that is naturally cholesterol-free. Legumes are an excellent source of fiber, especially soluble fiber. Soluble fiber can lower your total and LDL cholesterol levels and may help with weight control. Include a 1 cup serving of legumes at least three times weekly; use them as an alternative to meat to reduce fat and cholesterol intake while increasing fiber and other vitamins and minerals. Legumes contain carbohydrates that you need to count in your meal plan.

Milk Products

Milk is another high-quality protein. It provides calcium, potassium, magnesium and vitamins A and D. The DGAC reports that intake of milk products can reduce your risk of heart attack, heart disease and stroke. Examples include milk, sugar-free yogurt, cottage cheese or cheese. To limit saturated fat and cholesterol, choose products made from non-fat or 1 percent milk. Milk and yogurt contain carbohydrate; cheese does not. Cottage cheese and processed cheeses tend to be high in sodium. Choose natural over processed cheeses and limit your portion of cottage cheese.

Egg Whites

Eggs are one of the best-quality proteins. The egg yolk, however, has a high amount of cholesterol; the AHA recommends that you limit egg yolks to two per week. Egg whites are cholesterol- and fat-free. You can use egg whites or egg substitute, which is made from egg whites. In cooking or baking, two egg whites or one-fourth cup of egg substitute takes the place of one whole egg.

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