Can Dairy Products Reduce Your Type 2 Diabetes Risk?

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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.


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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.


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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."


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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.


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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.”


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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What should you do?

Before you start loading up on butter and cream, 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.