To date, 190 million people worldwide have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and experts predict that, in less than 20 years, that number will explode to 366 million. While the numbers vary from country to country, one thing remains consistent, regardless of nationality, religion or race: Diabetes is a debilitating disease, and the key to avoiding it and the horrific list of complications that come with it lies in prevention.
When talking diabetes prevention, diet is the first line of defense. It’s universally accepted that avoiding sugar and high-glycemic carbohydrates is a good strategy for preventing and managing diabetes. But what about dairy?
Some studies show that dairy is a good preventative option while others show that dairy can be problematic for diabetics. To clear up the confusion, Chinese researchers scanned the literature in search of an answer.
To Milk or Not To Milk
Researchers used Medline, the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s premier bibliographic database, to find studies on milk and dairy products and type 2 diabetes. They looked at all studies through April 2010 and included any that fit the following criteria:
- Contained original data from a cohort study; and
- Was the most recent study among those that used the same population or presented results in different journals.
If whole milk, yogurt, low-fat or high-fat dairy products were studied individually, they were not included in the analysis of “dairy products.” However, if three or more studies examined these products, researchers determined a relative risk of the product for inclusion. Additionally, researchers separated milk and whole milk from “dairy products.”
Finally, they chose not to include communication letters, abstracts, or studies presented at conferences that were not subsequently published in peer-reviewed journals. They also omitted any studies where the participants had already been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
After controlling for all of these parameters, a total of seven studies were included in the meta-analysis. One was from 2005, three from 2006, one from 2007, and two from 2009.
Dairy products were listed in six of the studies; low-fat versus high-fat dairy was examined in three studies; whole milk was discussed in four; and yogurt was compared in three studies.
They found that there was a 14 percent reduction in risk for type 2 diabetes in people with the highest intake of dairy products. When they broke the research down further, they found that eating low-fat dairy products garnered even greater protection — an 18 percent reduction in risk. In fact, just one serving a day lowered the risk by 10 percent.
Interestingly, when they looked at high-fat dairy products and/or whole milk, there was no significant association one way or the other regarding type 2 diabetes. In other words, these products neither protected against nor increased the risk for diabetes. They were relatively neutral.
Milk Does a Body Good
There are several theories regarding why dairy products confer protection against type 2 diabetes. One school of thought is that calcium decreases fat accumulation and helps accelerate weight loss when paired with calorie restriction. Others say calcium and vitamin D increase fat oxidation.
Still others point to whey, a primary protein found in dairy products. They claim that whey increases satiety, or the feeling of being full and satisfied. Finally, there are those that credit a little-known milk protein (trans-palmitoleate) with dairy’s ability to lower the risk of diabetes.
Regardless of the why, the what seems clear. As the researchers attest, “Our findings indicated an inverse association of daily intake of dairy products with [type 2 diabetes], suggesting a beneficial effect of dairy consumption in the prevention of [type 2 diabetes].”
Given this, if type 2 diabetes is a concern for you, aim for at least one to two servings of low-fat dairy products daily. Your best options include low-fat yogurt, milk and cottage cheese. Due to high salt content, you may want to limit regular cheese to a couple of times a week.
 Wild, S et al. Global prevalence of diabetes: estimates for the year 2000 and projections for 2030. Diabetes Care. 2004;27:1,047-53.
 Tong, X et al. Dairy consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus: a meta-analysis of cohort studies. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2011;65:1,027-31.
 Zemel, MD et al. Regulation of adiposity by dietary calcium. FASEB J. 2000;14:1,132-8.
 Teegarden, D et al. Calcium and dairy product modulation of lipid utilization and energy expenditure. Obesity. 2008;16:1,566-72.
 Luhovyy, BL, et al. Whey proteins in the regulation of food intake and satiety. J Am Coll Nutr. 2007;26:704S-712S.
 Mozaffarian, D et al. Trans-palmitoleic acid, metabolic risk factors, and new-onset diabetes in US adults: a cohort study. Ann Intern Med. 2010;153:790-99.