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Many people have childhood memories of parents urging them to drink 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 an 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 probably already know that there are lots of choices when it comes to milk and milk alternatives. This article will help you pick the best milk or milk alternative 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 main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. No matter which type you have, managing your carbohydrate intake is important.

Carb counting is often recommended for people living with diabetes. Sugar is one type of carbohydrate and experts do recommend limiting added sugars for overall health.

People with diabetes may also have high cholesterol or triglycerides in their blood. High levels of these fats are associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

Keeping an eye on some types of saturated fat including trans fat content in your diet can be beneficial. However, current research suggests the saturated fat in dairy is not associated with heart disease.

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. A good eating plan would be one that is individualized to meet nutrition needs and takes into account food preferences and any food intolerances.

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 Mediterranean eating pattern, which rich in fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, whole grains and limited processed foods, red meats and sweets. One study included dairy in the mediterranean eating plan and found health benefits

No matter which eating pattern you choose, the amount of carbohydrate you budget for each meal or snack should be individualized for your needs. The carbohydrate found in milk should be tallied as part of that budget.

A Registered Dietitian or Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist can help you determine the amount of carbohydrate you need daily.

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

Dairy milk contains the naturally occurring sugar lactose. Some people have digestive issues such as gas or diarrhea when they ingest lactose.

This naturally occurring sugar is included in the sugar count, but the label may also list any “added sugars”. People with diabetes may need to limit the amount of flavored sweetened milk they drink.

People with diabetes may choose to use milk products that are full fat or whole, reduced fat or fat free depending on their preference or their calorie and nutrition goals.

There are several nutritious milk and milk alternatives that can fit into your healthy eating plan and your budget. Read on to compare how some brands differ in nutritional value:

Standard Store Brand Dairy Milk

Kroger milk comes in fat free, reduced fat, whole and lactose free. One cup of the reduced-fat variety contains:

  • 120 calories
  • 12 grams carbohydrate
  • 8 grams protein
  • 25% DV calcium
  • 10% DV vitamin D
  • 15% DV vitamin A

Organic Valley’s Grassmilk

Surprisingly creamy, this 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.

You’ll want to drink this milk by the glass. Its rich, clean flavor also makes it perfect for adding to coffee and tea.

Organic Valley comes in fat free, reduced fat, whole as well as a lactose free version. One cup of the reduced fat version contains:

  • 130 calories
  • 12 grams carbohydrate and no added sugar
  • 8 grams protein
  • 20% DV for Calcium
  • 15% DV for Vitamin D
  • 20% DV for Vitamin A

Lactaid

Lactaid is a real dairy milk with all the nutrition, but no lactose, for those who have a sensitivity. It comes in fat free, reduced fat, and whole versions. One cup of the reduced fat version contains:

  • 130 calories
  • 13 grams carbohydrate with no added sugar
  • 8 grams protein
  • 25% DV for Calcium
  • 15% DV for Vitamin D
  • 15% DV for Vitamin A
  • 35% DV for B12

Fairlife Ultra Filtered Lactose Free

Fairlife Ultra Filtered Lactose Free dairy milks come in fat-free, reduced-fat, and whole options. These milks are higher in protein and have 1/2 the carbohydrate of regular dairy milk. One cup of the reduced fat version contains:

  • 120 calories
  • 6 grams carbohydrate with no addd sugar – also lactose free
  • 13 grams protein
  • 30% DV for calcium
  • 25% DV for Vitamin D
  • 15% DV for Vitamin A
  • 45% DV for B12

Silk’s Unsweetened Vanilla Soymilk

Soymilk is a high-calcium, dairy-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. This plant based milk is suited for those who follow a vegetarian eating pattern or have an allergy to dairy milk protein. It has a lower carb content and it’s lactose free.

One cup contains:

  • 80 calories
  • 4 grams carbohydrate
  • 4 grams protein
  • 20% DV calcium
  • 15% DV vitamin D
  • 15% DV vitamin A
  • 120% DV B12

Some other low-carb options

There are several milk alternatives that are lower in carbohydrate. The downside is that most of these alternatives lack protein and not all of them are fortified with calcium, vitamin D or vitamin A. Read and compare labels to choose the best option for your needs.

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.

One cup contains:

  • 30 calories
  • 1 gram carbohydrate (it is actually 1 gram fiber – no sugar)
  • 1 gram protein
  • 35% DV Calcium
  • 25% DV vitamin D
  • 15% DV vitamin A

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, but no protein at all, so keep that in mind as you pour and enjoy.

Check out: 10 delicious diabetic-friendly smoothies »

You should limit milks that are high in carbs, sugar, and total fat, or save them for special occasions while cutting carbs elsewhere that day. Some examples include:

  • TruMoo’s Chocolate 1% Low-Fat Milk – One cup of this flavored milk has 1.5 grams of saturated fat and 2.5 grams of total fat, plus a whopping 19 grams of carbohydrates and 7 grams of added sugar.
  • Nesquik’s Strawberry 1% Low-Fat Milk – This flavored milk comes in a 14 oz. ready to drink container, which has 2 grams saturated fat, 40 grams total carbs, and 18 grams added sugar.
  • Silk’s Vanilla Coconutmilk – A plant-based milk, a cup of this flavored variety is relatively low in carbs (2 grams in the unsweetened version), zero grams of protein, and 4 grams of saturated fat.

You may not be a kid anymore, but milk is still a healthy drink that you can enjoy. If you are living with diabetes and would like to include milk for the protein, calcium and vitamins, you can budget for the carbs and include it in your eating plan.

People with diabetes can eat or drink anything they choose if they stick to an individualized goal of daily carbs. Make sure to read the nutritional facts before picking up a carton.

It is still important to limit added sugars. 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 »