Dairy and Diabetes: Decoding the Blood Sugar Connection

When it comes to managing diabetes, understanding the impact of different foods on blood sugar levels is crucial. Dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese, have long been a topic of debate. In this blog post, we delve into the research to uncover the relationship between dairy foods and blood sugar control while also exploring the importance of calcium in promoting bone health, especially for those with diabetes.

A bottle of milk and a glucometer Description automatically generated with medium confidence

It is recommended to start with a small glass of milk and observe its effects on blood sugar levels.
Photo credit: RHN picture bank

Diabetes Explained

Diabetes is a chronic condition characterized by high blood sugar levels, which can lead to various complications if not managed effectively. This metabolic disorder affects how the body regulates blood sugar (glucose). There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes accounts for roughly 5-10% of diabetes cases and occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. This means that a type 1 diabetic is reliant on receiving a dose of insulin either via pump or injection after their meals. Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90-95% of cases and develops when the body becomes resistant to insulin or when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin to maintain normal blood sugar levels. While type 1 cannot be prevented, there are steps individuals can take to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Blood Sugar Spikes and Milk

A well-balanced diet plays a significant role in diabetes prevention. Whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, low-fat dairy, and whole grains are recommended. We also recommend that individuals limit the consumption of sugary and processed foods, as they can lead to weight gain and increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Engaging in regular exercise helps maintain a healthy weight, improves insulin sensitivity, and promotes overall well-being. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, along with strength training exercises. Managing a healthy weight is crucial in preventing diabetes. In addition, high blood pressure and unhealthy cholesterol levels contribute to the risk of developing diabetes in cardiovascular complications. Monitoring and managing these factors through a combination of lifestyle changes like dietary modifications and medication, if necessary, are essential preventive measures.

So how does dairy stack up in helping us manage our diabetes related health? Milk, a popular dairy product, contains carbohydrates that can cause a rapid increase in blood sugar levels. These carbohydrates, primarily in the form of lactose, are broken down into glucose during digestion, causing a rapid increase in blood sugar. Additionally, the fat content in milk affects how quickly the body processes these carbohydrates. Whole milk, with its higher fat content, slows down the digestion process and can lead to a more gradual increase in blood sugar compared to skim or low-fat milk. However, it is important to note that whole milk being a high-fat food should be consumed sparingly, as diabetics are at an increased risk for developing heart disease – a condition that can also be managed by consuming whole foods and foods lower in fat.

For individuals with diabetes, managing blood sugar levels is of utmost importance. It is recommended to start with a small glass of milk and observe its effects on blood sugar levels. This allows individuals to gauge their body’s response and adjust the amount to meet their individual needs. Alternatively, individuals with diabetes may choose to look for sugar-free dairy options or may need to supplement with a variety of foods to reach adequate calcium and protein intake. Substitutes that contain artificial sweeteners or natural sugar substitutes can help reduce the impact on blood sugar levels. It is important to note that while these alternatives may have a lower glycemic impact, they should still be consumed in moderation and monitored for any personal response to blood sugar levels.

Moreover, individuals with diabetes may need to supplement their calcium and protein intake from sources other than milk. There are various calcium-rich foods available, such as leafy greens, fortified non-dairy beverages, and certain types of fish. Including these alternatives in the diet ensures that adequate calcium intake is maintained without solely relying on milk.

The Importance of Calcium and Bone Health

Older adults with diabetes face an increased risk of falls caused by hypoglycemia, as low blood sugar levels can lead to symptoms like feeling unbalanced, blurred vision, and confusion. Falls contribute to a lower overall quality of life, reduced independence, and a diminished ability to enjoy daily activities. Alongside maintaining good blood glucose control, consuming a diet rich in calcium becomes crucial in lessening the risk of falls and promoting bone health. Calcium, the most abundant mineral in the body, plays a vital role in maintaining strong bones and teeth. It supports overall body structure, muscle movement, blood circulation, and nerve function. Adequate calcium intake, along with vitamin D for proper absorption, is especially important for older adults, as their bodies become less efficient at absorbing calcium. Calcium-rich foods, including dairy products, leafy greens (collards, kale, bok choy), broccoli, oranges, figs, seafood, fortified grains and cereals, soybeans, beans, lentils, and seeds, can be incorporated into the diet to meet daily requirements.

In conclusion, understanding the relationship between dairy and blood sugar control is important for individuals managing diabetes. Low-fat dairy products have been associated with a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes, while excessive consumption of whole-fat dairy may increase the risk. Like most foods, it is advisable to consume dairy in moderation and consult with a healthcare professional for personalized guidance.

Additionally, for older adults with diabetes, prioritizing calcium intake becomes crucial to promote bone health and reduce the risk of falls. Calcium-rich foods should be incorporated into daily meals. By understanding the complex relationship between dairy, blood sugar control, and bone health, individuals with diabetes can make informed choices to manage their condition effectively and improve overall well-being.

For more information on calcium-rich foods, see HGIC 4018, Get Your Calcium-Rich Foods.

Stirring Up Healthy Recipes

The month of June is National Dairy Month. Therefore, this month in Stirring Up Healthy Recipes, we focused on recipes rich in dairy. Below you will find copies of this month’s recipes. We have featured a frozen yogurt bark topped with homemade peanut butter granola, Mediterranean sheet pan eggs, and a cheesy stuffed bell pepper. Yum!

If you have not registered for Stirring Up Healthy Recipes – what are you waiting for? You can sign up by following the link HERE.


  1. American Diabetes Association: How Is Calcium Connected to Aging, Diabetes, Hypoglycemia, and Falls
  2. National Library of Medicine: Dairy Consumption and Risk of Type-2 Diabetes: the untold story
  3. JAMA Network: Dairy Consumption and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus in Men
  4. National Library of Medicine: Effects of Milk and Dairy Product Consumption on Type 2 Diabetes: Overview of Systemic Reviews and Meta-Analysis
  5. Diabetes UK: Dairy and Diabetes
  6. American Diabetes Association: How is Calcium Connected to Aging, Diabetes, Hypoglycemia, and Falls?
  7. Undeniably Dairy: Is Milk Good for You?

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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