The Impact of Dairy On Blood Sugar
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The Impact of Dairy on Blood Sugar

Milk, butter, cheese, ice cream, and yogurt all are commonly consumed dairy products around the world. Being a combination of proteins and fats, dairy is also rich in carbohydrates. Have you ever thought about the effect of dairy consumption on your blood sugar levels? 

The Importance of Glycemic Index (GI)

Dairy is rich in protein and fats and also has lactose as the main sugar content. The carbohydrates in the milk are ultimately digested by our body, resulting in sugar that enters the bloodstream. The ability of any food to increase blood sugar level is measured in terms of the glycemic index (GI). Different dairy products will have a different GI. It indicates how quickly your body converts carbohydrates to sugar. Foods with a low GI will never spike sugar levels in the blood . Typically, milk and dairy products have a lower GI and additionally, the milk protein slows down stomach emptying. You may choose the type of milk or any dairy product that has a low GI to avoid sugar spiking (3).

Dairy and Insulin Levels

Insulin is a hormone released by the pancreatic cells in response to the presence of blood sugar. The released insulin takes care of the blood sugar by allowing it to enter the body cells. Insulin sensitivity refers to the uptake of sugar by cells in the presence of insulin. Insulin also helps store sugar in the liver to be released when needed

Sometimes, although insulin secretion is expected, the cells stop responding to insulin and do not take up sugar. This means you have developed insulin resistance. Any malfunctioning of insulin will result in increased blood sugar levels. A clinical trial in 272 average middle-aged women showed a significant relationship between dairy consumption and insulin resistance. Higher dairy intake was associated with reduced insulin sensitivity and increased insulin resistance

Most dairy products are responsible for the secretion of insulin from the pancreas. The action is attributed to both casein and whey protein in milk, as stated in an animal study

Systematic reviews of clinical studies done on adults gave mixed results. While some studies show a positive effect of dairy on insulin sensitivity, others show no effect. Although dairy increases insulin secretion, more studies need to be done in human islet cells, and clinical studies are necessary for further confirmation

Dairy and Blood Sugar Levels

The results of studies that deal with the effect of dairy on blood sugar levels are very conflicting. Some studies indicate that consuming dairy has a beneficial effect on blood sugar levels and lowers the risk of developing type-2 diabetes. Yogurt was the best in this relationship. The fatty acids in dairy are also associated with a lower risk of increase in blood sugar levels and hence a lower risk of developing T2DM. However, existing studies show a research gap in establishing a relationship between dairy with blood sugar.

A study on prediabetic people carried out for three years of dairy consumption had exciting findings. Low-fat dairy consumption was associated with lower blood sugar and hence a lower risk of T2DM. However, replacing low-fat dairy with cheese resulted in an increased risk of T2DM.

Choosing the Dairy Products

You may have heard of lactose intolerance or dairy allergy. Yes, some people cannot digest milk sugar or develop allergy-like symptoms after consuming dairy products. Here are a few tips for choosing dairy without increasing blood sugar levels and that maintain your metabolic health

  • Milk: Moderate milk consumption can be associated with lowered risk of blood sugar spikes.
  • Fermented dairy: Have kefir, yogurt, or cheese in unsweetened form. People with lactose intolerance find yogurt easier to digest than milk. You can consume full-fat yogurt that contains live bacterial cultures that will help improve your gut health. Adding vinegar to a carbohydrate-rich diet can help lower blood sugar levels.
  • Ice cream and cream: Meta-analyses show that ice cream shows a significant association with low risk of T2DM while the cream is not associated with the risk of diabetes.
  • Butter: It is the highest fat-containing dairy product. Several studies have reported an inverse relation between butter consumption and a lower risk of T2DM.

Replacing Dairy

  • Dairy can be replaced in case of lactose intolerance or other health problems. You may go for tofu instead of paneer, soy milk, almond milk, or oats milk to replace cow milk.
  • Your physician may prescribe you lactase enzyme supplements that will help you digest the milk sugar; lactose.
  • Read the labels of the product and avoid those foods that have milk or milk protein.
  • Choose unsweetened dairy products to avoid adding sugar to your blood and have good metabolic health.

Bottomline

Increased blood sugar levels are a warning sign of developing T2DM, a major metabolic health disorder, which is already growing like an epidemic. While we consume several dairy products daily throughout the day, it is obvious to think about their effects on blood sugar levels. Several clinical studies, systematic reviews, and meta-analyses have shown that consumption of dairy is associated with a lower risk of T2DM. Low-fat dairy in moderate amounts and unsweetened yogurt has shown a lowered risk of developing high blood sugar levels (8,9). More studies and more extensive clinical trials are still needed to throw more light on this condition.

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