A study was recently published touting the benefits of cereal and milk for people with diabetes. Critics, however, say the research is being pushed by the dairy industry.
A recent study published in the Journal of Dairy Science encourages people with type 2 diabetes to add cow’s milk to their cereal for better blood sugar control.
However, a deeper look into both the funding behind the study and the real impact of cereal on blood sugar raises a number of questions.
“Metabolic diseases are on the rise globally,” explained H. Douglas Goff, PhD, a professor in food sciences at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, in statement on the study.
Goff led the team from the university’s Human Nutraceutical Research Unit.
Their study focused on the effects of a breakfast containing “high-protein” milk with cereal compared to a breakfast containing normal cow’s milk.
The high-protein milk product contained additional whey protein powder in an effort to reduce blood glucose levels during the hours following the meal.
Whey is derived directly from cow’s milk. It’s often used as the base for the most affordable protein powders in the fitness industry.
Goff and his team concluded that the additional protein in the milk successfully kept blood glucose levels in a healthier range. It was reportedly more satiating, too.
“There is an impetus to develop dietary strategies for the risk reduction and management of obesity and diabetes to empower consumers to improve their personal health,” said Goff.
However, experts contacted by Healthline said the suggestion that a breakfast of high-protein milk with cereal is actually beneficial to someone’s blood glucose levels is dangerous, manipulative, and blatantly disingenuous.
“This is harmful advice,” Kelly Schmidt, RD, LDN, told Healthline. “These research and public relations efforts around this data are an injustice to the uninformed consumer who is trying to improve their diabetes by learning from public information and research.”
Schmidt added that when she merely read the headline of this study, it was clear to her that the research was funded by the dairy industry.
The Journal of Dairy Science is owned by the American Dairy Science Association (ASDA) — an international organization comprising educators, scientists, and industry representatives who are self-described as “providing educational and scientific activities for the betterment of the dairy industry.”
“This research is motivated by trying to increase dairy and cereal sales, and is confusing to someone who is innocently trying to follow recommendations to improve their diabetes,” says Schmidt.
In an email to Healthline, the ASDA defended its publication, saying it is “not owned or controlled by the dairy industry.”
“This study, as with all studies published in the Journal of Dairy Science, has undergone a rigorous peer review process by scientists with expertise in the areas covered by the study. Only after this review process that examined all aspects of the study are articles approved for publication,” wrote Ken Olson, ADSA outreach coordinator.
Eating cereal for breakfast, whether it contains high-protein milk or not, is known well in the diabetes patient community as a food that makes it difficult to control blood glucose levels after it’s digested.
Even a bowl of whole steel oats containing approximately 30 grams of carbohydrates will spike blood sugar, albeit less so than a bowl of highly processed Cheerios.
Cereal of all kinds consists largely of carbohydrates, and this substance raises blood sugar levels — including even the healthiest sources, such as fresh fruit.
The larger majority of branded cereals (including seemingly “healthy” versions like Kashi and Raisin Bran) contain a high amount of highly processed carbohydrates and added sugar.
Both are digested rapidly and thus spike blood sugar levels rapidly.
At this year’s 78th Annual American Diabetes Association’s Scientific Sessions, Jeannie Tay, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Nutrition Sciences, reported recent research supporting the benefits of a low-carbohydrate diet for people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Tay explained in a report published in Diabetes Daily that the most obvious and consistent benefits of a low-carbohydrate diet, which is defined by eating anywhere from 20 to 70 grams of carbohydrates per day, were improved glucose control and weight loss.
A bowl of most boxed cereals will easily add up to 50 grams of carbohydrates plus the additional 13 grams of carbohydrates from 8 ounces of cow’s milk.
That produces a total of 63 grams of carbohydrate before you’ve even left for work in the morning.
Schmidt, who lives with type 1 diabetes and is a holistic nutrition coach for diabetes patients across the globe, says reducing carbohydrate consumption is what has the biggest effect on blood sugar levels and weight loss.
For that first meal of the day, she actually recommends eliminating carbohydrates entirely.
“My advice is to eat whole, real foods that are high in protein and fat, like avocado, eggs, flax, nuts, seeds, and humanely sourced animal protein,” says Schmidt.
She also recommends eating plenty of non-starchy vegetables throughout the day, and she guides patients to limit their overall dairy intake, especially whey protein.
“While most dairy products are relatively low in carbohydrates, dairy is actually high in leucine — an amino acid that is the most insulinogenic or ‘insulin-demanding’ of all the amino acids, because it absorbs into the bloodstream very quickly,” explained Schmidt.
“Whey is great for someone post-workout when we are most insulin sensitive, but not for someone who has blood sugar variability,” she noted.
Schmidt adds that it’s no surprise that the added whey in the study’s milk reduced participants’ appetites. Protein has always maintained its reputation as the most satiating macronutrient.
“Health professionals should be prioritizing and advising that people with diabetes focus on eating more whole food sources of protein, not highly processed whey,” said Schmidt.
Also suspicious in the dairy industry’s study is that the second study used to demonstrate the “health benefits” of high-protein dairy was pizza.
“Was this a health study or a planned study designed to simply promote dairy in all forms?” questioned Schmidt. “Are they really suggesting that eating manipulated dairy in the form of milk and pizza is going to improve the blood sugar levels of those struggling with type 2 diabetes and obesity?”
Goff and his team concluded from the results of his high-protein dairy study that it confirmed the “importance of milk at breakfast time” to reduce the rate of carbohydrate digestion and help to maintain lower blood sugar levels.
“Nutritionists have always stressed the importance of a healthy breakfast,” added Goff, “and this study should encourage consumers to include milk.”
In an email to Healthline, Goff defended his team’s research.
“Our study shows that the milk proteins present help to delay the absorption of glucose from starch hydrolysis, thus lowering blood glucose levels after consumption of the cereal compared to the cereal served with water. A high protein milk beverage delayed blood sugar absorption more so than normal milk. These affects are due to both delayed stomach emptying into the intestine (including starch from the cereal) when milk proteins are present in the stomach, and to the effects of the proteins on digestive hormones,” Goff wrote.
Nonetheless, Schmidt is still aghast at the study’s conclusions and the damage it could cause to the diabetes population.