Many people love drinking milk, whether cow's milk, almond milk, soy milk, or rice milk. If you have diabetes, however, not all types of milk are suitable.
The American Diabetes Association recommends individualized nutrition plans for people with diabetes. Therefore, you need to determine which type of milk will help you keep your blood sugar under control and maximize your nutrition intake. Read on to understand more about what milk is good for diabetes.
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It depends on the type of milk, and your consumption depends on your glucose level. Milk contains much-needed nutrients for a well-balanced diet, so it offers excellent nutritional value for people with diabetes, despite its effect on glucose levels.
For instance, diabetes can make some people more susceptible to osteoporosis. Since milk contains calcium, it can help to keep your bones strong.
However, cow's milk contains carbohydrates, so people with diabetes need to factor this into the amount of milk they drink. However, specific types of milk, such as skimmed milk, contain fewer carbohydrates, which may make it a more suitable choice for diabetic people who don't have lactose intolerance.
Bear in mind, though, that low-fat beverages and foods such as skimmed milk can spike your blood sugar levels due to faster absorption. Therefore, it's vital to monitor your glucose level to determine if skimmed milk is best for you.
Several studies have attempted to link cow's milk and the risk of Type 2 diabetes. In a 2011 study¹ of over 82,000 postmenopausal women who had not yet been diagnosed with diabetes, it was found that the subjects had low diabetes risk due to a diet low in full-fat dairy products.
In another study tracking the relationship between Type 2 diabetes and dairy consumption during adolescence, researchers found that consuming more dairy products reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
However, there's a lot of contradiction in determining whether eating full-fat dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, and butter lowers the risk of diabetes. For instance, in a 2014 study conducted in Sweden, researchers found that a higher intake of full-fat dairy products is associated with a lower risk of diabetes. The researchers concluded that a diet rich in saturated fat in cow's milk has a protective effect against Type 2 diabetes.
Based on this research, people with Type 2 diabetes have different factors to consider when selecting the best type of milk for them. Focus on controlling your carbohydrates rather than your fat intake.
While some studies have shown milk consumption may lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes in adults, it has been associated with an increased risk of Type 1 diabetes in children. A 1998 study in Finland found that siblings of children with Type 1 diabetes seemed to be more at risk of developing diabetes themselves if drinking a lot of cow's milk.
If you'd rather avoid cow's milk due to the contradictory advice, there are different types of milk suitable for people with diabetes. Note that all the following types of milk are unsweetened. If you add sugar to them, you'll be adding more carbohydrates to your diet, which will spike your blood sugar levels.
Many types of almond milk on the market have added sugar. However, sugar-free almond milk has 2% carbohydrates. This is much lower than low-fat cow's milk which contains up to 5% carbohydrates.
This is another type of milk with low levels of carbohydrates. Unsweetened flax milk contains as little as 1.02g of carbohydrates, so is an ideal option for people with diabetes. Flaxseed milk contains no lactose or cholesterol, making it a heart-healthy alternative to cow's milk.
Unsweetened soy milk is another non-dairy milk that's suitable for people with diabetes. It contains 4.01g of carbohydrates, which is higher than flaxseed and almond milk but safe enough to avoid spiking your blood sugar levels.
You don't have to avoid dairy products. There are specific dairy products that you can consume even if you have diabetes. These options include:
Fermented dairy products like Greek yogurt are always better choices due to the probiotics. Probiotics positively affect your intestinal health and can improve the body's glucose and insulin levels. In a study published in 2017,² researchers noted that probiotics lower fasting glucose and insulin levels.
Low-fat cheese, such as string cheese, cottage cheese, or ricotta are all good options to balance your meal and add a low-fat protein source. Minimal carbohydrate levels wouldn't spike your blood glucose.
Dairy source is a crucial factor for people with diabetes. Milk from purely grass-fed cows is higher in a specific type of omega-3 fatty acid known as alpha-linolenic acid. However, further research is needed to reach a firm conclusion on the effects of alpha-linolenic acid on diabetes.
If you have diabetes, you need to be careful about the types of milk that you drink. You should follow specific guidelines when choosing the most suitable milk for you.
There are two nutrients you should consider when choosing your milk:
Adults between 19 and 51 years require 1,000mg of calcium daily. A glass of low-fat cow's milk contains 300mg of calcium, and other dairy options contain more. Check the labels of your milk and dairy products to understand their contents.
Carbohydrates have the most significant impact on blood sugar. People with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes have different daily carbohydrate requirements. Limiting your calories can help you control your condition.
Note that no specific percentage of carbohydrates is safe for diabetic patients; it depends on your individual needs. Work with your healthcare team to decide on the best eating pattern for you.
Aim to reduce carbohydrates in your meals and drinks to avoid raising your blood sugar levels. Other factors that affect dietary choices include:
Balancing your carbohydrate intake with the use of insulin and activity levels
Consuming plenty of fiber to manage your blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of high cholesterol
Managing your weight gain
With these factors in mind, here are two examples of meal plans with milk products that you can adopt:
Breakfast: A cup of unsweetened almond milk, a slice of Ezekiel bread spread with a small avocado, one poached egg, and an orange (approximately 40g of carbs)
Lunch: A Mexican meal containing two-thirds of a cup of low-sodium pinto beans, a quarter cup of chopped tomatoes, 1 cup of chopped spinach, a quarter cup of bell pepper, and a tablespoon of salsa (approximately 30g of carbs)
Snack: 20 x 1g baby carrots with 2 tbsp hummus (approximately 21g of carbs)
Dinner: 1 cup of cooked lentil penne pasta, 1.5 cups of vegetable tomato sauce, and 2oz of lean turkey (approximately 35g of carbs)
Breakfast: A cup of unsweetened flax milk accompanied by one serving of muffin-tin omelets containing broccoli, ham, and cheddar, and one large pear
Lunch: 1 serving of spinach and strawberry as your meal-prep salad
Snack: 1 medium apple
Dinner: Stuffed potatoes with beans and salsa, 2 cups of mixed greens, and citrus vinaigrette
This meal plan has a total of 148g of carbohydrates and 81g of fat.
Milk poses a few risks to people with diabetes. For instance, it contains unhealthy fats that can raise the risk of cardiovascular disease associated with diabetes.
What's more, the carbohydrates in milk are broken down into sugar. Therefore, you need to keep your milk consumption low to avoid spiking your blood sugar levels.
There are specific types of milk that you should avoid due to their high carbohydrate levels.
Chocolate milk contains 8–10g of added sugar per serving. Some brands, like TruMoo's chocolate milk, contain 20g of carbohydrates. This is a high level that could spike your blood glucose to life-threatening levels if you have diabetes.
Whole milk is high in calories and contains fat. Look for low-fat options to get the same amount of calcium without too much fat.
Other lactose-free alternatives to cow's milk include:
If you're diagnosed with diabetes, it's vital to check your milk consumption. However, this doesn't mean that you have to entirely avoid all types of milk, and it's important to include some in your diet due to the nutritional value.
The best way to decide on your milk intake is to seek the help of a dietitian. They will help you develop a meal plan that includes the types of milk best suited to your condition.
Beverages, almond milk, unsweetened, shelf stable | U.S. Department of Agriculture
Cutting calories to control diabetes | Harvard Health Publishing