Leucine and Omega-3 | Grains | Prediabetes Diet

Adequate protein containing leucine and omega-3 fats are essential for a healthy prediabetes diet if you want to stop prediabetes and prevent diabetes along with its potential nasty complications including foot ulcers that restrict mobility preventing you from living an independent functional life into your senior years.

I have previously written about our country’s obsession with grains and my increasingly paranoid speculation over this. As a matter of fact, in that post I came up with 5 reasons why we may have this obsession. Can you think of more?

grain conspiracyI am still not quite at the point of believing there’s a conspiracy, but the information below is not helping matters. I’m starting to feel like Fox Mulder from the X-files television show. It is bizarre how often diabetes diet advisers feel the need to add the obligatory statement that goes something like this:  “healthy foods high in fiber, such as whole grain cereals, breads, crackers, rice, and pasta.” There has to be a better way.  Or at some point do you just gotta believe?

Please view the image below, read the transcript/caption, think about it, and then read on.  I took the screenshot in case the original link is taken down in the future – The link was taken down.


MedlinePlus article talking about leucine and omega-3 for diabetes with image of whole grains

MedlinePlus article talking about leucine and omega-3 for diabetes with transcript

united states public health grain conspiracySo, did you think the same thing I did?  Why on earth is an article about the benefits of leucine and omega-3 fat intake for diabetes health, leading off with a picture of grains? And did you notice the obligatory, “and whole wheat products…? I am mystified. Scully, help me out here!

Grain lobbyists don’t change the subject, I am not saying grains do not have some part to play in a healthy diabetes and pre-diabetes diet.  Actually, most of the literature supports grains, but cook well and limit to a side serving about the size of a tennis ball (1/2 cup).

So what image should Medline have led off with to represent food with a healthy amount of leucine and omega-3? I’ll give you a hint. It’s streamlined, no lungs, slimy to touch and makes your hands stink if you touch it. I know, not very appetizing…maybe that’s why they led with grains? But seriously, see the foods highest in the amino acid nutrient leucine.

“Game meats” top the list. While most of us do not eat game meats, the point is, amino acids are found in proteins and adequate protein is found in meats, not grains. Yes, some plant foods do have protein, but not nearly the amount found in meats. You should not go hog-wild, but some leucine and omega-3 containing meat is healthy to stop prediabetes and prevent diabetes along with all its complications including foot ulcerations placing you at risk for amputation. Read on and learn why.

Amount of Leucine in 26 g of Different Foods*

fish is a good source of leucine and omega-3 fatsSlice multi-grain bread  156 mg (1)

Raw egg white                265 mg (2)

Tuna fish                          541 mg (3)

Turkey breast                  509 mg (4)

*see reference links – a slice of bread is 26 grams, so some math required to compare 26 g of each food.

I imagine most readers know about omega-3, we often write about it’s health benefits as part of a sound prediabetes diet.  I have also written a post on leucine, but the benefits of leucine for the prediabetes diet is a bit more obscure.

Leucine is an amino acid nutrient. Amino acids are the building blocks that make up protein. Leucine belongs to a special group of amino acids called “branched chain amino acids.” It hangs with its two branched chain bro’s – isoleucine and valine. In addition to being a branched chain amino acid, it is also an essential amino acid. That means your body can’t make it, and you need to be eating some every day.

Leucine levels must be sufficient to perform its signaling and metabolic roles. Leucine is not only used like other amino acids to make protein for your muscles, but it also plays other roles beyond being a building block for protein.

Some of leucine’s special properties apparently come from its ability to influence something in our cells called mTOR.  mTOR flips on different metabolism-switches in our cells telling them how much energy and nutrients we have available to function, grow and survive. The mTOR pathway malfunctions as part of diabetes, obesity and other diseases of metabolism.

Leucine promotes healthy blood sugar levels

Leucine plays an important role in regulating the metabolism of many of your cells. It is important for a healthy blood sugar level, muscle metabolism and weight management. It has been shown to stimulate the beta cells of the pancreas to make insulin. Leucine apparently flips on genes that control the release of insulin from the pancreas. It has also been shown to improve insulin resistance by modulating the production of glucose (gluconeogenesis) in the liver.  Some studies have shown leucine to improve blood sugar levels in Type 2 diabetics, however age appears to be a factor. Elderly type 2 diabetics may not get the same benefit from leucine.

Aged muscle in general does not respond to protein like our muscles did when we were younger. Nevertheless, there is improved health of muscle in response to exercise and adequate protein intake. As we age, many people do not get adequate protein or exercise. This is a big factor in the deteriorating health including the higher incidence of prediabetes and diabetes as we age.

Leucine promotes healthy muscles needed for a good metabolism

leg muscles

Healthy strong leg muscles needed to maintain a functional independent life

Leucine also plays a special role in muscle metabolism. It increases protein in the muscles that move you from place to place – regular Nutrientology readers know these muscles as “skeletal muscles” because they move bones.

Leucine’s special properties when it comes to weight management and muscle metabolism have been studied. One study examined the association between dietary branched chain amino acid intake and the risk of being overweight/obese. It looked at almost 4,500 non-diabetic men and women 40-59 years of age concluding that people who ate more food with branched-chain amino acids were less likely to be overweight or obese.

Leucine, and eating adequate protein in general, is important if you are cutting calories as part of a weight loss plan. Several recent studies show that leucine helps maintain muscle while reducing calories. This is a very important concept. People will often tell me they need their foot fixed so they can exercise to lose weight. I inform them that it is not weight they want to lose, it’s fat. This is when I typically get a confused look.

During any attempt at weight loss, you need to maintain your muscle mass!  I recently discussed this with a patient. She said, “My doctor told me lifting weights can keep me from losing weight.”   While her doctor may have said this, I can only hope it was in the context of educating her on the weight of muscle versus fat, and the fact that resistance exercise may add some weight to the scale from positive healthy muscle, but you need to pay more attention to your overall body composition.  As you set out to improve your metabolism, lose weight, stop prediabetes and prevent full diabetes, I would not advise you to use a scale very infrequently.  Use a mirror, take pictures, feel how your clothes fit, listen to what others are saying as you improve your blood sugar levels to prevent full diabetes and all its nasty complications including movement-killing foot ulcers.

Muscle is your metabolism’s friend. Don’t ditch your friend in your effort to lose weight.  Support your friend with resistance exercise – yes, I mean weightlifting – as part of your weight loss plan that will improve your body composition.

One study suggests that you need to eat about 2.5 g (2500 mg) of leucine to really stimulate your muscle metabolism during weight loss and to increase loss of body fat. This appears to be especially helpful at breakfast and lunch to protect and maintain a healthy muscle metabolism during weight loss.

See Other Posts on the Benefits of the Amino Acid Leucine

Older Adults Get Muscle Boost from Leucine Supplement  

How is Leucine Helpful for Prediabetes Exercise


Get Branch Chain Amino Acid Supplement and EPA/DHA Omega-3 Essentials at the Nutrientology Store.

pure encapsulations epa/dha omega-3 supplement


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About Robert Creighton

Dr. Creighton is a podiatrist and foot surgeon with over 26 years in podiatric practice treating thousands of patients afflicted with the physiological, physical, and psychological side effects and complications of diabetes and pre-diabetes metabolic syndrome. He believes these disorders present a pressing public health concern that need to be more actively addressed in a multidisciplinary way. Dr. Creighton graduated from what is now the Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine after receiving his undergraduate degree in Biology. He is certified by the American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgery, a member of the American Public Health Association, an American College of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer and a Member of the American Nutrition Association.

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