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Is milk an option for people with diabetes?

Many people have childhood memories of parents urging them to drink lots of milk. When you’re a child, you typically have to drink whatever milk your parents provided for you. It may have been a more traditional option such as whole milk or a sweet alternative such as almond milk. Now that you’re the one doing the choosing, you can pick the best type of milk for you.

If you have diabetes, you should know that not all types of milk are beneficial for you. Although you need the nutritious calcium and protein found in milk, it’s important to note the saturated fats, carbohydrates, and sugar levels in each. This information will help you pick the best milk for your dietary needs.

People with diabetes are not able to make, or use, insulin effectively. Insulin is a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar. When insulin isn’t doing its job efficiently, blood sugar levels can spike.

There are two kinds of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. No matter which type you have, managing your sugar intake is important. Sugar is a type of carbohydrate, which is why carb counting is often recommended for people with diabetes.

People with diabetes may also have high cholesterol or triglycerides in their blood. Triglycerides are a type of fat, which can increase the risk for a heart attack. Keeping an eye on the saturated and trans fat content in your diet is important.

Diabetes can also make some people more susceptible to bone fractures. A diet high in calcium can help keep bones strong. One way to do this is by drinking milk daily.

Adding calcium-rich milk into your diet may take a bit of planning. Creating a meal plan specifically designed for people with diabetes can be a good place to start.

The American Diabetes Association recommends several meal plans geared toward keeping blood sugar under control and maximizing nutrition. Popular plans use:

  • carb counting, which sets a number of carbs for each meal
  • the plate method, which uses portion control to promote non-starchy vegetables and limit starches and protein
  • the glycemic index, to pick and choose foods based on their nutritional value and affect on blood sugar levels

No matter which you choose, consider starting out with 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per meal. The carbohydrates found in milk should be tallied into that number.

The nutritional facts on milk container labels include the daily percentages of vitamins and nutrients per serving size. They also indicate the amount of:

  • fat
  • sugar
  • carbohydrates
  • cholesterol

People with diabetes should look for the least amount of sugar per serving. This may mean staying away from sweetened milk completely.

You should also avoid milk that is high in saturated and trans fat. Unlike saturated and trans fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat can be beneficial when eaten in moderation. Monounsaturated fat can help reduce bad cholesterol. Polyunsaturated fat is beneficial for the heart.

There are several options for nutritious milks that are low in carbs and high in taste.

Organic Valley’s Fat-Free Grassmilk

Surprisingly creamy, this fat-free milk comes from grain-free, organic, pasture-fed cows. A 2013 study suggests that milk from pasture-fed cows may be higher in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids than other types of milk. This milk has 12 grams of carbs and 8 grams of protein per cup. You’ll want to drink this milk by the glass. Its rich, clean flavor also makes it perfect for adding to coffee and tea.

Blue Diamond’s Almond Breeze Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk

This slightly sweet, calcium-rich milk is lactose free. One cup has 40 calories, 2 grams of carbs and zero saturated fat. Its nutty, distinct flavor makes it the perfect accompaniment for breakfast cereals and whole grain breads.

Silk’s Unsweetened Organic Soymilk

Soymilk is a high-calcium, diary-free alternative. It’s high in vitamin B-12 and has 4 grams of carbs per cup. If you love smoothies, this is your milk.

Meyenberg’s Low-Fat Goat Milk

Sweet and fresh tasting, this low-fat goat milk has 11 grams of carbs and 8 grams of protein per cup. It’s calcium rich and tastes great in milk shakes. Just make sure to reach for a sugar substitute instead of real sugar when making the recipe.

Good Karma’s Unsweetened Flax Milk

With only 1 gram of carbs and 25 calories per cup, unsweetened flax milk is a refreshing beverage choice alongside any meal. It’s free of most allergens and supplies 1,200 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids, so pour and enjoy.

Check out: 10 delicious diabetic-friendly smoothies »

You should avoid milks that are high in carbs, sugar, and total fat. Some examples include:

  • TruMoo’s Chocolate 1% Low-Fat Milk – Despite its name, this flavored milk has 2.5 grams of total fat, plus a whopping 20 grams of carbohydrates and 18 grams of sugar.
  • Nesquik’s Strawberry 1% Low-Fat Milk – This flavored milk also has 2.5 grams of total fat, plus 24 grams of carbohydrates and 22 grams of sugar.
  • Silk’s Vanilla Coconutmilk – A plant-based milk, this flavored variety is relatively low in carbs with 10 grams per cup. But its high fat content of 5 grams makes it a non-starter.

You may not be a kid anymore, but milk is still a healthy drink that you can enjoy. Make sure to read the nutritional facts before picking up a carton. Choosing your milk wisely can cut down on unnecessary sugars, which can help keep your blood sugar levels in check. The calcium and protein in milk can also help keep your bones strong.

Keep reading: How to plan a diabetes-friendly grocery list »