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An animated variety of protein characters (a fish, a milk carton, a bunch of black beans, and a sirloin) work out together in a gym.

Protein Sources

Protein is an essential macronutrient to all human beings. Our bodies depend on it to make and repair cells. It is also necessary for building muscle and even fighting infection. When you are living with diabetes, consuming adequate protein becomes important in new ways. Now that carbohydrate intake is to be limited and monitored, other food groups must take its place.

Sources of protein

Here is a look at some great protein sources.


This may be the most obvious food group that we obtain protein from. Meat, or animal-based protein, provides nutrients to help build muscles. It may also be high in saturated fats or sodium depending on the cut and how it is prepared. When buying chicken, the leanest choices are boneless, skinless, chicken breasts. Chicken thighs and legs are higher in fat and when eaten with the skin on, provide even more fat. If you want to use thighs in a recipe, remove the skin first to lower your saturated fat intake. When buying ground chicken or beef, opt for the highest lean to fat ratio that is usually posted in the corner of the label (example 97% lean). For beef cuts, look for sirloins or tenderloins, which are often the lowest in fat. And do not forget the eggs! At 7 grams of protein per egg, you are gaining some serious benefits in a tiny package.


Fish and seafood are other great sources of protein. Some fish such as salmon, also contain omega-3 fatty acids which may lower the risk of heart disease. If you do not usually care for the taste of fish, start with a mild option such as tilapia or cod. An easy way to prepare is to spray them with a small amount of olive oil and dust with salt and pepper then bake at 375° F for approximately 20-30 minutes or until the fish appears white and starts to flake when touched with a fork. Shrimp is also a fan favorite. Consider adding it to your next stir-fry. They cook quickly and the protein will keep you full and satisfied!


Check out the dairy section of your store for more great protein sources. Cheese, milk, and yogurt are loaded with protein. They can easily be added to any meal (cheese on your burger, anyone?), or be the star of the show (yogurt parfaits for the win!). Just be sure to read the labels. Milk and yogurt contain carbohydrates that need to be counted towards your meal’s allowance. If you are dairy-free, there are some amazing milk alternatives that are also diabetes-friendly. Try almond milk and soy milk for a great substitute. They also make dairy-free cheese and yogurt which can be found in the dairy section as well.

Plant-based protein

Not all protein comes from animals. Whether you are a vegetarian or not, choosing plant-based proteins is also beneficial. Beans and legumes provide lots of this ever-important nutrient. Consider lentils, black beans, kidney beans, or chickpeas in place of your usual meats in your favorite dishes. They go great in soups, on salads and even mashed up on crackers or toast. Soy in the form of tofu or edamame can also easily replace meat in your favorite recipes.

If you have specific questions about your protein needs or restrictions, please speak with your physician!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Thomas A McAtee Jr. moderator
    4 months ago

    Katie, this is a great article. I love fish. Wife doesn’t too much except for certain ones. I like the fish that’s fixed in some Asian stores and she loves the pepper with anchovies that they fix. When we go out on date day I’ll get some salmon, shrimp, bok choy, broccoli etc. And I also eat broccoli and now thanks to you and some others that’s been after me to try cauliflower at home along with some roast chicken or wings. But every lunch/dinner will have broccoli and cauliflower. Took a while for you to convince me but I finally gave in and now kick myself for not trying it before. 😉

  • Katie Gutwald, RD moderator author
    4 months ago

    Thanks for all the info! I will check it out! Katie Gutwald RD community moderator

  • Katie Gutwald, RD moderator author
    4 months ago

    Thomas! Such wonderful news! Of course I wouldn’t steer you the wrong way. So glad you are enjoying new things. Thanks so much for sharing, makes my writing feel worthwhile!
    Katie Gutwald RD community moderator

  • Thomas A McAtee Jr. moderator
    4 months ago

    Oooops. My bad. Posted the same link twice instead of going to the link I was talking about for that rice sliver soup that I love but haven’t had for very many years now.

  • Thomas A McAtee Jr. moderator
    4 months ago

    Don’t ever feel that your writing isn’t. It really is, believe me. I’ve learned a lot from you and the others. But you can forget that cottage cheese bit though. I tried some that had peaches mixed in with it. Liked the peach part but forget that cottage cheese part. Not happening. 😉

    I did start eating eggplant though each time I go to the Chinese Restaurant. Always loved tofu. Learned to eat that overseas. Love it in Kimchi soups as well. Very good.

    Check out this book. See if there’s anything in it that you might like to give a try and maybe find a way to curb the carbs etc as well.

    This is one of my most favorite soups. Supposed to be fixed for special occasions but wife knew how much I love it and would fix it for me once in a while. I’ve not had this for many, many years now.

    Check them out and see what you think. If you’re lucky enough to have an Asian grocery store around maybe you can find the ingredients there. Especially those rice slivers. Probably could use brown rice slivers as well. Never tried that.

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