Can Diabetics Have Dairy?

November is national diabetes month, and while diabetes education takes place around the country everyday, this is a great time for awareness and discussion around what this disease means for people who have it and their families. As a Registered Dietitian, I have the opportunity to meet with many people diagnosed with diabetes. They are often counting carbohydrates, and cautiously avoiding dairy foods. When I ask why dairy isn’t part of their diet, their response centers around sugar. They are concerned that dairy foods have at least 12 grams of carbohydrates per serving. Carbohydrate grams are precious for people with diabetes, and when aiming for just 30-45 grams per meal, they might opt for an extra portion of pasta and a diet soda instead of milk. Why this may seem like a sound practice, milk is an important part of the diet for individuals with or without Diabetes.

Father Son Milk Mustache

For those with diabetes, nutrient-rich food choices are essential, and dairy is a nutrient powerhouse containing protein, carbohydrate, potassium, calcium, vitamin D, and B-vitamins. Protein, in particular, slows carbohydrate absorption and helps control blood sugar. Dairy foods have also been shown to improve insulin resistance. So while dairy does contain carbohydrates, the protein it contains naturally keeps those carbohydrates from being absorbed too quickly and spiking blood sugar. This is key for those with diabetes. Protein-rich foods also help keep us full longer (satiety), which has been shown to help with weight loss – another plus for those with diabetes. For diabetics who are overweight, losing just 7% of total body weight can dramatically improve symptoms associated with the disease.

For those without diabetes, eating a diet that includes dairy has been shown to decrease the risk of developing type two diabetes in a variety of populations. The reason behind this is still unknown, and researchers have hypothesized that it might be dairy’s glycemic index, calcium content, or the synergy of its components. While we may not know the exact metabolic mechanism, dairy consumption continues to be associated with decreased-risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity. Research Summaries

Take Home Message

  • Dairy foods help optimize health and reduce disease risk.
  • Without dairy, it can be difficult to stay within a calorie budget and get enough calcium, vitamin D, phosphorus, potassium, and other nutrients, so keep it in your diet!
  • Health professionals encourage 3 servings of dairy a day for those with and without diabetes.
  • Enjoy this delicious food group and all its benefits for a lifetime of health.


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