Dietitian Recommended Protein Shakes for Diabetes

Introduction

A common nutrition recommendation for people living with diabetes is to eat more protein and less carbohydrates (carbs) to improve blood sugars. Protein shakes can be a way to increase the amount of protein in your diet, but how do you know which ones are best for diabetes?

You can rest assured that as a dietitian living with type 1 diabetes, I’ve tried many different protein shakes. This article will review the best store bought and homemade protein shakes for diabetes.

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Can people with diabetes drink protein shakes?

The short answer to this question is yes! Protein shakes are a good supplement for people with diabetes who are looking to increase their daily protein intake. But, there are certain things to consider when choosing a protein shake. 

What to look for in a protein shake for diabetes

Whether you’re making a protein shake or smoothie in your blender or cracking open a bottle of premixed protein on-the-go, here are some tips on what to look for in a protein shake for diabetes:

1) Low to no added sugars

Carbs in food/drinks turn into sugar during digestion leading to a gradual or rapid rise in blood sugar, depending on the type of carb, nutrients in the food, and other factors.  Low to no added sugars typically means lower carbs per serving. 

Because juice, soda, and other sweet beverages contain only simple carbs, they are quickly turned into sugar during digestion, leading to a rapid, high spike in blood sugar. Be mindful of certain juice based protein shakes which are low in protein and high in carbs–some can have around 50 grams per serving! 

So, when opting for a store bought premixed shake, choose one with 5 grams of sugar or less per serving. 

2) Carb and protein balance

Aim for a nice balance of carbs and protein when making your own protein shake. My rule of thumb is to make sure the grams of protein per serving are within at least 5 grams of the amount of carbs.

For example, if your protein shake has 20 grams of carbs, it would ideally have at least 15 grams of protein. 

3) Don’t forget the fiber

Fiber is our blood sugar’s friend. It slows down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, preventing sudden spikes and drops. Fiber also helps you feel full and promotes healthy bathroom habits. 

A protein shake with at least 2.5 grams of fiber is considered a good source of fiber and the best option for those of us with diabetes. 

Ingredients for diabetes-friendly protein shakes

As a dietitian living with type 1 diabetes, I like to make my own protein shakes at home for a quick on-the-go breakfast or as a blood sugar friendly snack. Below are ingredients I use in protein shakes to keep me feeling full and my blood sugars more level:

Protein Powder: Adding protein powder to a shake can help keep you full longer and stabilize blood sugar levels. There are plant based protein powder options for those with lactose intolerance. 

Using a protein powder can also add fun flavors like vanilla, peanut butter, or strawberry to your shake. My favorite protein powder is Nutricost Vanilla Whey Protein Powder.

Unsweetened Plant-based Milk: These can be a low-carb, dairy-free base for shakes. Be mindful of portions of oat milk or sweetened nut milks as these will contain more carbs.  

Sugar alternative: For a sweeter tasting protein shake, try adding a low-carb sugar alternative like Stevia or allulose

Greek Yogurt: An alternative to protein powder in a shake can be Greek yogurt. Plain or sugar alternative sweetened Greek yogurt is high in protein and low in carbs. It also makes your shake thick and creamy. 

Berries: Berries are low-glycemic fruits that add flavor and antioxidants. Per serving, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries are lower in carbs and high in fiber.

Leafy Greens: For added nutrients without spiking blood sugar, try adding spinach or kale. 

Healthy Fats: Fat is a nutrient that slows down digestion leading to a slower rise in blood sugar after eating. Try adding avocado, peanut butter, or other nut butters to make your protein shake thick and creamy. 

Recommended protein shakes for diabetes

Here are some of my favorite dietitian recommended homemade and store-bought protein shakes for diabetes.

Homemade protein shake recipes

As a diabetes dietitian, I make my homemade protein shakes with ingredients that match components of a blood sugar-friendly meal: complex carbs (carbs that turn into sugar slowly and gradually raise blood sugar), fiber, protein, and fat. 

Blueberry Lemon Delight 

This recipe uses greek yogurt for the protein option, but feel free to include or substitute a scoop of vanilla protein powder. It has blueberries for complex carbs and fiber and ground flaxseed for fiber and healthy fats.  

A recipe card explaining how to make a blueberry lemon protein shake for diabetes

Oatmeal Raisin Cookie

My favorite homemade protein shake is packed full of protein, oats and raisins for complex carbs and fiber, and nut butter or peanut butter for a healthy fat.

A recipe card explaining how to make an oatmeal raisin cookie protein shake for diabetes

Store-bought protein shake options

Check out some of my favorite on-the-go protein shakes for diabetes.

High protein, low carb

These protein shakes have a whopping 30 grams of protein and 3 to 5 grams of carbs. I would pair one of these with a complex carb such as a piece of whole fruit or a peanut butter sandwich for satiety purposes. 

Fair Life Vanilla High Protein Shake

Quest Nutrition Ready to Drink Salted Caramel Protein Shake 

Premier Protein Shake, Chocolate

Plant-based

These protein shakes are lower in protein and a little bit higher in carbs, but I would still pair them with another food item as they aren’t as filling as the higher protein shakes. 

Evolve Plant Based Protein Shake, Vanilla Bean

OWYN, Vegan Protein Shake, Dark Chocolate,

High fat/Keto

The following protein shakes are higher in fat, low in carbs, and in my opinion, a little more filling than most premixed protein shakes.

Atkins Vanilla Cream Protein Shake (the strawberry flavor is excellent too!)

Koia – Plant Based Protein Shake – Chocolate Banana

Benefits of protein shakes for diabetes

Protein shakes can be a good supplement for people with diabetes as protein helps with blood sugar and weight management and aids in muscle and skin health.

They can be a fun way to add protein to a meal or snack that is otherwise lacking in protein, such as pancakes, oatmeal, or a piece of fruit.

Blood sugar control

Protein helps stabilize blood sugar levels by slowing down the digestion of carbohydrates, which leads to a more gradual release of sugar into the bloodstream. This prevents rapid spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels.

Weight management

Protein helps you feel full by triggering hormones that signal satisfaction, keeping you satisfied for longer. This can reduce your overall calorie intake by curbing hunger and preventing overeating.

Muscle and skin health 

Protein is also essential for muscle repair, maintaining healthy skin, and supporting overall health by providing the building blocks your body needs to function properly.

Precautions and considerations

While protein shakes have their benefits, there are some precautions to consider when choosing to use them in your diet.

Consult your a healthcare provider

As always, it’s best to consult with your diabetes provider, dietitian, or diabetes educator before starting any new supplements.

A dietitian or diabetes educator can go over your diet with you and determine if you’re already getting enough protein without needing to supplement with a protein shake. 

Cost

The more convenient a food/beverage item, the more money it costs.

If you’re on a tight budget, buying the premixed protein shakes is probably going to be your most expensive option. 

When considering protein powder or the premixed shakes, try buying in bulk whenever possible. It may seem costly up front, but it saves you a bit of money in the long run.

A supplement, NOT a replacement

Protein shakes can be a fun way to boost your protein intake, but they should complement your diet, not replace your meals. Whole foods at meals and snacks offer a variety of essential nutrients that help keep you healthy and feeling your best. 

The exception to this is occasionally using a protein shake to get in a quick breakfast or post workout meal when you’re on-the-go. 

When doing this, make sure the protein shake has components of a meal: complex carbs, fat, protein, and fiber. For store-bought protein shakes that are just protein, try pairing it with complex carbs and fiber such as oatmeal, fruit, or a sandwich. 

Final thoughts

Protein shakes can be a beneficial supplement for people with diabetes by helping to stabilize blood sugar levels, manage weight, and support muscle and skin health. 

Choose or make protein shakes with low added sugars, balanced macronutrients, and adequate fiber. 

Consult with your diabetes healthcare provider to ensure they fit within your overall dietary needs and budget.

For more information about diabetes nutrition, check out my other resources:

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