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3 Dairy Foods To Try if You Have Diabetes

Medically reviewed by Manuel Penton, M.D.
Written by Megan Cawley
Posted on October 24, 2022

If you are one of the more than 34 million people in the United States living with type 2 diabetes, you likely understand that it can be challenging to determine which foods are beneficial and which should be avoided. Dairy, in particular, is one food group that many members have discussed on DiabetesTeam. What role could dairy play in your diabetes diet?

Some DiabetesTeam members have reduced their dairy intake or stopped consuming it entirely, like one who wrote, “Some foods I avoid due to lactose intolerance and my cholesterol, like cheese and milk.” Others, however, have noted the positive effects dairy products have had on their diet: “Fat makes us feel fuller,” wrote one member, “and since it takes a long time to digest, you also feel fuller longer. That is true with any type of fat, but especially if you opt for either the unsaturated fats or higher-fat dairy products, including the full-fat yogurt.”

Whether you love cheese and milk or prefer nondairy alternatives, read on to see how consuming three different forms of dairy products may positively affect diabetes management and boost your overall well-being. As always, talk to your doctor or a specialist like a registered nutritionist about healthy eating before making changes to your diet or food choices.

The Potential Positive Impacts of Dairy

Studies have found some evidence that consuming dairy foods, such as cheese, yogurt, and milk, may decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Eating dairy products may also have a positive impact on glucose (blood sugar) levels. In addition to potential benefits related to diabetes, dairy can also be a great source of calcium, which is necessary for bone health.

1. Milk

Milk proteins have been associated with increasing the body’s response to insulin and reducing blood glucose levels after eating. These effects have been observed in people both with and without type 2 diabetes.

Low-fat dairy products and low-fat milk are often recommended for those living with diabetes or other health conditions like heart disease. However, remember that not all fats are bad for you. A certain amount of fat can help balance out the carbohydrates or sugars found in milk, helping to stabilize your body’s glucose levels.

In fact, researchers are still investigating whether low-fat or full-fat milk is better for those with diabetes. As some studies have noted, although skim milk has fewer calories than whole milk, it may actually contain added sugars to make up for the flavor lost by removing the milk’s fats.

Some DiabetesTeam members prefer dairy- or lactose-free options rather than dairy milk. “Try lactose-free milk or soy milk,” recommended one member, “as I felt much better when I made the change from normal. I personally went from lactose-free to soy, as my body needed it.” They went on to add, however, that “everybody’s different.” Ultimately, choosing the best dairy option for you may also depend on any other health conditions you have.

2. Yogurt

Studies conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health have shown that eating yogurt is associated with a decreased risk of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Yogurt may even offer health benefits for those currently living with the condition. In particular, three long-running studies found that just one serving of yogurt a day resulted in an 18 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Researchers suggest that yogurt’s health benefits might be due to its probiotic content. Probiotics are microorganisms found in food that help maintain the body’s “good” bacteria. The probiotics found in yogurt might help reduce inflammation and improve insulin sensitivity, although more research is necessary to understand this.

A study from the International Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that probiotic yogurt consumption resulted in lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar, and decreased cholesterol levels — among other benefits — in people with type 2 diabetes.

Additionally, if you are lactose-intolerant, you may be able to digest yogurt more easily than other dairy products, helping you reap the benefits of dairy without the associated discomfort.

When you buy yogurt, be sure to check the nutrition label and keep an eye out for added sugars. Some low-fat yogurts, for example, can be higher in sugar than full-fat options.

3. Cheese

Cheese can be a great snack. As one DiabetesTeam member shared, “I keep cheese sticks, beef jerky, almonds, pistachios, and cashews on hand to help with cravings.” However, cheese’s potential benefits for diabetes management are greater than some might think.

Low-fat, high-protein cheese options, such as mozzarella, ricotta, and cottage cheese, can help satisfy snack cravings without spiking your blood sugar levels. When eaten alongside more carb- or glucose-heavy offerings, cottage cheese can also help stabilize blood glucose levels.

Some cheeses can be higher in fat or calories than others, so make sure to pay attention to portion sizes.

Managing Your Dairy Intake With Diabetes

Moderating your dairy intake and pairing dairy products with healthy foods and a balanced diet are crucial. Keep an eye out for added sugar or sweeteners on food labels of dairy products.

If you have questions regarding how much milk or dairy you should consume as part of your daily diet, consult your health care provider to understand your dietary needs. They may also refer you to resources that can help with diet or meal planning.

Find Your Team

Managing your type 2 diabetes can be difficult, but it’s not a journey you have to take alone. At DiabetesTeam, you’ll find a welcoming community with experiences, questions, and thoughts similar to yours. Here, you can ask questions, share your story, and connect with more than 124,000 members from around the world who understand life with diabetes.

What foods do you rely on for eating well and helping you to feel your best? Are dairy products a part of your diabetes management strategy? Share your thoughts on eating with diabetes in the comments below or by posting on DiabetesTeam.

Posted on October 24, 2022
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Manuel Penton, M.D. is a medical editor at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about him here.
Megan Cawley is a writer at MyHealthTeam. She has written previously on health news and topics, including new preventative treatment programs. Learn more about her here.

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