Dairy milk is one of the best options for diabetics and a source of health benefits. But it does raise blood sugar (or glucose) levels seen that it contains the sugar lactose. Fortunately, the rise is not too significant, even if you have more than the recommended portion. However, diabetics are advised to take into account their carbohydrate intake from other foods as well as that from milk (which is entirely lactose). Moreover, seen that diabetes also requires careful weight management, patients are further advised to determine their milk portions according to energetic values as well and choose low-fat options if needed.
How does milk raise blood sugar levels?
Dairy milk contains carbohydrates in the form of lactose (between 2 and 8% of total weight). And lactose is a sugar, more exactly a disaccharide, meaning it’s made from two simpler sugars: glucose and galactose. Lactose is broken down in its simpler forms following digestion and these are then absorbed into the bloodstream, raising blood sugar levels. But the fat and protein in dairy milk slow down digestion and stomach emptying as well as the rate of sugar absorption into the bloodstream, contributing to a steadier rise. And because lactose content is not excessive, drinking milk in moderation doesn’t usually make blood sugar go up very much.
Cow milk has an average of 4.6 to 5.4 g of lactose per 100 g/100 ml. Sheep’s milk has an average of 5.1 to 5.36 g of carbohydrates per 100 g/100 ml, most of which is lactose. Goat’s milk has 4.4 to 5 g of carbohydrates per 100 g/100 ml, all lactose. Low-fat versions have about the same lactose content.
One cup of dairy milk (240-245 g) has an average of 11-13 g of lactose. Overall, sugar content is not excessive so drinking milk in moderation should not cause blood sugar spikes. Especially considering the fat and protein in it further help lower its glycemic effects.
However, it’s important to always make sure you are getting 100% real cow/sheep/goat/buffalo/other dairy milk. Because it’s not uncommon for producers to add sugar to the milk to improve its taste, a practice that can result in the milk having up to 15-16 g of lactose per 100 g and up to 37 g of lactose per cup. In this case, blood sugar spikes are possible. Diabetics in particular might feel the effects of this practice. It’s wise to always read the nutritional information on the package to see if what you are getting is actually real milk and be able to better predict the glycemic effects of the product.
Whole milk and blood sugar effects
If we were to take into account only the effects on blood sugar metabolism, know that whole milk is just as good as low-fat options because the lactose content is the same in both products. If you were thinking about going for low-lactose or lactose-free milk products, know that they still have the same amount of sugar as whole and low-fat versions. The only difference is that their sugar comes in the form of glucose and galactose, not lactose. This is because producers add an enzyme to pre-digest lactose and break it down in its constituent sugars, glucose and galactose.
Does milk lower blood sugar?
It is sometimes erroneously believed that because it has fat and protein which slow down digestion and the rate of sugar absorption into the bloodstream, milk can help lower blood sugar levels. But the sugar lactose found in dairy milk actually raises blood sugar, just in a more controlled manner. And because it’s not very much to begin with, the rise is not significant either. This is also why even diabetics can drink milk in moderation with their condition, provided they adapt their intake to their individual nutritional requirements and the rigors of their condition.
Diabetics and anyone required to closely monitor their blood glucose and keep levels within a certain limit may benefit from the following advice and information:
1) Even though glycemic effects are minimal, it’s still important to keep to small amounts.
2) When looking to introduce milk into your diet, also take into account the carbohydrate intake from the other foods you eat in a day and adjust portions so that you don’t exceed carbohydrate recommendations per day and per meal.
3) When consumed in moderation, as part of an overall varied and balanced diet, tailored to individual nutritional requirements, milk does not cause weight gain. As a result, it makes a healthy addition to diabetic diets, in addition to not eliciting a major glycemic response.
4) Because of its fat and protein content, dairy milk can successfully be paired with high-glycemic foods such as morning cereals as it reduces the overall effect of the meal on blood sugar levels.
5) Studies show moderate consumption can reduce type 2 diabetes risks.