Can Dairy Products Reduce Your Type 2 Diabetes Risk?

by Mary Shomon Patient Advocate

Can eating dairy products reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes? Research now suggests it can, but only certain dairy foods qualify. Read on to find out specific ways dairy can affect appetite, weight, and metabolism.

Milk, cheese, and yogurt.

Fats in dairy

The research, published in October of 2018 in the journal PLOS Medicine, looked at almost more than 15,000 people who developed type 2 diabetes during the study’s 20-year timeframe. They found that higher levels of certain trans fatty acids – fats found in dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt – had a 30 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes when compared to those people who had the lowest levels.

Milk pouring into glass

Palmitic acid

According to the study authors:

"While dairy fat contains palmitic acid that could increase the risk of [type 2 diabetes], it also contains several other types of fatty acids and further reflects specific foods, such as cheese or yogurt, that could reduce risk."

Reaching for the whole milk

The type of dairy matters

A critical finding in the study is that the benefits come not from any dairy products, but only from full-fat dairy foods that contain the trans fatty acids associated with the reduced risk. Most nutritional guidelines recommend low-fat or non-fat dairy products as a way to reduce the intake of calories or saturated fat. The diabetes-lowering benefits of dairy products are, however, only seen with full-fat dairy products, and especially cheese and yogurt.

Exercise and milk for increased metabolic rate.

Metabolic benefits of dairy

A 2016 study in the journal Circulation also found a 50 percent reduction in the risk of type 2 diabetes in people with higher levels of dairy fat consumption.

According to the study’s senior author Prof. Dariush Mozaffarian:

"Our findings, measuring biomarkers of fatty acids consumed in dairy fat, suggest a need to re-examine the potential metabolic benefits of dairy fat or foods rich in dairy fat, such as cheese.”

Stepping on scale obesity concept.

Dairy and obesity

Other studies have found that higher intake of full-fat dairy foods is linked to a lowered risk of diabetes and obesity. A 2013 study found that high-fat dairy foods reduced the risk of weight gain and obesity. Another 2013 study out of Sweden found that middle-aged men who consumed full-fat milk, butter and cream over a 12-year period had a significantly lower risk of obesity when compared to men who rarely or never ate high-fat dairy foods.

Mini burger; caloric control concept.

Reducing caloric intake

Experts don't know precisely why high-fat dairy foods may help prevent weight gain or reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, but experts theorize that a higher-fat diet may curb or reduce hunger, which reduces overall caloric intake.

Carbs; bread and pasta.

Compensating with carbohydrates

Researchers also suspect that low-fat dairy foods may trigger higher consumption of carbohydrates. And high simple carbohydrate consumption – as well as being overweight or obese – are proven risk factors for type 2 diabetes.

Cheddar cheese

Less carbs in cheese

For the highest full-fat dairy food impact with the least carbohydrate, consider cheese. One ounce of cheddar cheese, for example, has 113 calories, 9 grams of fat, and 0 carbohydrates. Compare this to a cup of plain full-fat milk or yogurt, each of which has 149 calories, 8 grams of fat, and 11 grams of carbohydrates.

Full fat yogurt.

What should you do?

Before you start loading up on butter and cream, you should think about consulting a registered dietitian. Keep in mind that full-fat dairy products are also high-calorie, and calories still count. You may want to consider switching some of your dairy food intake from non-fat or low-fat to full-fat versions.

Mary Shomon
Meet Our Writer
Mary Shomon

Mary Shomon is a patient advocate and New York Times bestselling author who empowers readers with information on thyroid and autoimmune disease, diabetes, weight loss and hormonal health from an integrative perspective. Mary has been a leading force advocating for more effective, patient-centered hormonal healthcare. Mary also co-stars in PBS’ Healthy Hormones TV series. Mary also serves on HealthCentral’s Health Advocates Advisory Board.