Diabetes and Kidney Health – what’s the scoop on protein powders?

“Do I need to be taking a protein supplement?” — A common question I get asked from a lot of my clients. A short answer would be not necessarily, but let me start from the beginning and tell you more about how diabetes and your kidneys are related.

Diabetes absolutely affects your kidney health. Whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes it’s important to know that you don’t want to go on a low carb, high protein diet.


Because having diabetes makes your blood thick and sticky, like honey. This honey-like blood sugar coats around different organs (including your kidneys) and nervous systems making it harder for them to do their job. One of the ‘jobs’ a kidney does is break down and filter out proteins. You don’t want to put extra work on your kidneys by increasing your protein intake in an effort to lower your carbs.


What Proteins Should I be Eating?

Day in and day out I am one to always promote well-balanced meals that include high-quality dietary proteins. However, I am also a realist and sometimes a quick protein shake is just easier. When it comes to buying the right type, it’s easy to get confused. Some protein powders are better than others and it’s important to read ingredients and avoid a bunch of additives and preservatives.


Protein Powder 101

1. Whey protein: When it comes to whey protein supplementation, whey is king. Whey is a complete protein made from milk that’s easily digestible. If you are lactose intolerant I would suggest whey protein isolate (not concentrate) which is lower in lactose.

2. Casein: Another milk protein. Casein is absorbed by the body much slower than whey which helps you stay fuller, longer. Look for “calcium caseinate” on the label to ensure you are getting the purest form of protein. Downside: it does not mix well unless blended.

3. Soy: a complete plant-based protein. Consume in moderation. Look for “soy protein isolate” which contains more protein, isoflavones, and less cholesterol and fat compared to soy concentrate. Downside = It can create significant amounts of gas. It’s highly processed and it’s high in allergens.

4. Pea protein:  plant based protein. A concentrated natural protein fraction of yellow peas. The process used for concentrating pea protein is water based, making the end product very “natural.” It is highly digestible. Downside = it’s not a complete protein so it’s best to pair with other vegan sources of protein, like hemp.

5. Hemp Seed: a near-complete plant-based protein. Full of omega-6 essential fatty acids (inflammation-fighting power) and very high in fiber. It is easily digested, absorbed, and utilized by the human body. It’s also hypoallergenic. Downside = it’s not a complete protein so it’s best to pair with other vegan sources of protein, such as pea protein or brown rice protein.

6. Brown Rice: Yes, rice is mostly composed of carbohydrate; however, it contains a small amount of protein which is extracted to create brown rice protein. It’s hypoallergenic and easily digestible,  making it an excellent alternative to anyone with soy or dairy allergies. Downside = Higher in carbs so may not be the best source for anyone with diabetes. Also, it’s not the best tasting and it’s not complete so it needs to be paired with other sources.

Note: Since one plant-based powder alone won’t offer a complete protein, look for a product that combines several to create a full amino acid profile.


Aside from protein powders, try your best to get your protein needs through whole foods (instead of supplements). Here are some suggestions:

The following foods provide ~20 grams of high-quality protein when consumed in the portions indicated:

2 cups fat-free milk

3 oz grass-fed beef (about the size of a deck of carbs)

2.5 oz chicken or turkey

3/4 cup cottage cheese

4 large eggs


So tell me, do you think you get enough protein in your diet? Too much? Do you have a brand that you like? Leave a comment below or ask any questions you may have about protein intake.


Author: Katie

Hi! I'm Katie, Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. This website it dedicated to those looking to heal their bodies from the inside out - and it all starts with balancing out your blood sugar. Let's heal disease together one plate at a time.

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