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Do Dairy Products Increase the Risk of Diabetes?

A recent study evaluated whether different classes of dairy products impact the risk of pre-diabetes and diabetes in adults.

Dairy products are an important food group and supply the body with necessary nutrients required for good health. Studies have shown that whey protein, found in dairy products, can affect how insulin is used in the body and may help in reducing blood sugar levels in patients with type 2 diabetes. Also, the bacteria present in fermented dairy products has been associated with improving the health of the digestive system. Although dairy products have health benefits, research has indicated a possible relationship with pre-diabetes and newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes.

Dairy Products and Pre-diabetes

An article recently published in the British Journal of Nutrition by researchers in the Netherlands applied data from the Lifelines Cohort Study to determine the effects of different groups of dairy products on the development of pre-diabetes and diabetes. The 112,086 participants included in the study completed a dietary assessment to determine energy and nutrient consumption. Additional information collected, either by the completion of questionnaires or measurement, include education level, physical activity, smoking behaviour, height, weight, cholesterol, and the presence of high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Adults with diabetes were excluded from the study. The researchers measured fasting blood sugar levels and glycated hemoglobin as the outcomes for the study.

The dairy product groups analyzed in the study were:

  1. Skimmed – including skimmed milk and yogurt
  2. Semi-skimmed – including semi-skimmed milk and low fat cheese
  3. Full-fat – including full-fat milk, yogurt, regular-fat cheese, cream, milk-based ice cream, and chocolate milk
  4. Fermented – including curd cheese/quark, or buttermilk
  5. Non-fermented dairy products – including custard and porridge.

Full-fat Dairy Products May Increase Risk of Pre-diabetes

The results showed that the participants who consumed skimmed dairy products, fermented dairy products, buttermilk, and low-fat cheese had lower rates of pre-diabetes than the participants whose diets incorporated more full-fat and non-fermented dairy products. Although the findings in type 2 diabetes were not as definite, full-fat and non-fermented dairy products were associated with a higher incidence of type 2 diabetes. On the basis of the data available for the study, the researchers were unable to fully determine whether the results observed were solely due to dairy products or because of other lifestyle behaviors such as unhealthy eating.

Dairy products are commonplace in the diets of a majority of the population. From a bowl of cereal for breakfast to a slice of cheesecake as an after-dinner dessert, many people consume a dairy product at least once a day. This study highlights the importance of selecting dairy products with a lower fat content when possible, in addition to making other healthy food choices.

Written by Anuolu Bank-Oni, PharmD, CDE, BCGP

Reference: Brouwer-Brolsma, E M, et al. (2018). Dairy Product Consumption Is Associated with Pre-Diabetes and Newly Diagnosed Type 2 Diabetes in the Lifelines Cohort Study. British Journal of Nutrition 119(4):442-455



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