Adjusting to a new diagnosis of diabetes can be a shock – and wondering ‘what can I eat?’ is only normal. Some people with diabetes cut out or limit their intake of dairy foods (like milk, cheese and yogurt) due to concern about the fat content.

However, Diabetes Australia actually recommends low-fat dairy foods in the diet of people with diabetes. How do dairy foods fit in?Dairy foods like milk and yogurt have a low glycaemic index (GI), so are ideal for people with diabetes. The GI is a rating of foods according to their effect on blood sugar levels. High GI foods cause blood sugar levels to rise quickly, while low GI foods (the better choice!) result in a slower and sustained blood sugar change. Why are low GI foods good for people with diabetes? Diabetes is a condition characterised by excess sugar (or glucose) in the blood. The hormone insulin (which is made by the pancreas) transfers glucose from the blood into the cells of the body, where it is used as fuel (or energy). For people with diabetes, the body produces either no insulin, or the insulin doesn’t work as it should. Low GI foods help prevent large ups and downs of blood sugar levels. An added bonus is that low GI foods can delay hunger and help with weight loss in overweight people. Reduced- and low-fat varieties of milk and yogurt are great low GI choices. Other healthy, low GI foods include grainy bread, legumes, pasta, most fruits and oats.Recent research has linked children and adults who regularly eat dairy foods with a higher quality diet overall, with more essential nutrients. Most people need three serves of dairy foods each day to help meet their recommended dietary intake of calcium. A serve is equal to a 250mL glass of milk or a 200g tub of yogurt or two slices (40g) of cheese. Besides calcium, a glass of milk, tub of yogurt or slice of cheese contain carbohydrate, protein, vitamin A, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, riboflavin, vitamin B12 and zinc. There are many reduced- or low-fat dairy foods to choose from – and Diabetes Australia support the use of these products. It may come as a surprise that reduced-fat milk contains only around 1.4% fat, and skim milk a tiny 0.1%! Lower fat versions of yogurt and cheese are also available. Check the label and compare the fat content of your favourite products.Sugar is often on the ‘Don’t go there’ list for many people with diabetes. But according to Diabetes Australia, a healthy eating plan for diabetes can include some sugar. Those foods with added sugar that don’t have much nutrition should be used sparingly – such as lollies and soft drinks. But foods like fruit, milk and yogurt – which contain a small amount of naturally-occurring sugar – contribute important nutrients and fit into a healthy eating plan. For most people with diabetes, the main priority is to choose foods that are low in fat (especially saturated fat).Other benefits of dairy foods for people with diabetesEating low-fat dairy foods as part of a healthy diet may also benefit people with diabetes by helping to reduce obesity, high blood pressure and blood lipids. For example, Israeli researchers recently discovered that a diet rich in low-fat dairy foods could help weight loss in overweight people with type 2 diabetes. Eating a ‘DASH’ style diet has been shown to be useful in lowering blood pressure – a condition affecting many people with type 2 diabetes. DASH stands for ‘Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.’ It is a healthy diet that is low in fat and salt, includes plenty of fruit and vegetables – and three daily serves of mainly low-fat dairy foods.Good eating tips for people with diabetesA healthy diet, that contains a good balance of foods from the five food groups, is recommended for people with diabetes. In fact, all Australians should eat this way! It is important to:

  • Eat plenty of wholegrain breads and cereals, fruit and vegetables (especially those with a low glycaemic index)
  • Eat regular meals and healthy snacks
  • Have a moderate fat intake – and limit saturated fats (choose lean meats, skinless chicken and low fat dairy foods, limit fried takeaway foods, pastries and biscuits)
  • Use added sugars in moderation (and watch sweetened fizzy drinks)
  • Keep to a healthy weight or, if you are overweight, aim to lose weight (a drop of 5-10% of your weight is a great start)
  • Limit your alcohol intake

ConclusionAccording to Diabetes Australia, low-fat dairy foods are an excellent low GI choice that should be included in the diet of people with diabetes. So, remember to have your three serves today!Dairy AustraliaDiabetes FactsheetClick here to learn about the importance of dairy in the dietary control of diabetes.

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