Whey may be good for more than just Little Miss Muffet.

A new study shows adding whey to a high-carbohydrate meal may help people with diabetes keep their blood sugar levels under control.

Researchers found drinking a whey supplement mixed with water along with a high glycemic index (GI) meal, like mashed potatoes with meatballs, prevented the dramatic spikes in blood sugar that normally occur in people with type 2 diabetes.

Whey is a protein found in milk and is also available as a nutritional supplement. Researchers say the results suggest that whey aids in blood sugar regulation by stimulating the production of the hormone insulin in the pancreas. Insulin helps the body regulate blood sugar naturally.

In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas either does not produce enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels at healthy levels or the body has become resistant to insulin. Therefore, people with type 2 diabetes are advised to modify their diet to avoid foods with a high glycemic index that are digested rapidly and can cause dangerous spikes in blood sugar.

Foods that have a high glycemic index -- and thus the strongest and most immediate impact on blood sugar -- include refined grains, potatoes, and sweets.

Read WebMD's "Get the Facts about Diabetes"

Whey to Help Keep Blood Sugar in Check

In the study, researchers compared the effects of eating a high glycemic index meal with or without whey supplementation on blood sugar levels after the meal. The results appear in the current issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

For two days, 14 people with diet-treated type 2 diabetes ate a high-GI breakfast of white bread followed by a high-GI lunch of mashed potatoes and meatballs.

A whey supplement of 27.6 grams of whey powder mixed in water was added to both meals on one day. On another day, they ate the same meals with lean ham and lactose dissolved in water in place of the whey supplement.

Read WebMD's "Learn More About Diabetes Complications"

Lower Blood Sugar, Higher Insulin

Researchers took blood samples before and after the meals and found that insulin production was higher after the whey-supplemented meals.

For example, insulin production was 31 percent higher after the high-GI breakfast and 57 percent higher after the high-GI lunch when whey was included compared with when it was not.

The study also showed that rises in blood sugar levels after lunch were reduced by 21 percent with whey supplementation.

Researchers say the findings suggest that whey proteins may attenuate blood sugar surges throughout the day.

Additional studies are also looking into the possibility of stimulating insulin production by specifically tailoring these proteins, which may lead to more effective diabetes treatments with fewer side effects.

By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD

SOURCE: Frid, A. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, July 1, 2005; vol 82: pp 69-75.