Examining Evidence for Dairy & Diabetes

Southeast Dairy Association - Dairy Assortment

The latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming dairy foods (three daily servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy) as part of a healthy eating pattern to reduce the risk for chronic diseases, but what about for diabetes in particular? With ever-evolving nutrition research, staying current can be a challenge.

A sensational study can affect public opinions about a certain food, food group or eating pattern, but the fact is a single study does little to provide answers for clinicians and their patients. Instead, researchers who systematically review the results of several studies together provide us with the best big-picture view of what the body of literature tells us. This method gives practitioners confidence in sticking to what the research says rather than being swayed by every new dramatic headline.

Systematic, scientific evidence may never grab the media’s attention, but these nuggets of information regarding diabetes are great news for dairy lovers and have the attention of dedicated health professionals.

  • Higher consumption of low-fat dairy foods is associated with:
    • A 40-50 percent reduced risk for type 2 diabetes (T2D)1
    • A lower risk for T2D in later adulthood when consumed in adolescence3
  • A dose-response relationship was found for specific dairy foods:
    • Eating yogurt > 2/week was associated with a 54 percent lower risk for T2D1
    • For every 1.7 servings of dairy foods eaten, risk for getting T2D was reduced by 7 percent2
    • Consuming 1 serving of low-fat dairy (or 1 ounce of cheese) per day was associated with a 12 percent and 20 percent respectively lower risk for T2D4
    • Each serving of yogurt per day was associated with an 18 percent lower risk of T2D5
  • Higher intake of dairy was associated with 15 percent reduction in risk of T2D6

All this evidence suggests that a higher intake of dairy foods is associated with reduced risk of type 2 diabetes (T2D). One mechanism suggested for this relationship is that the unique fatty acid profile of dairy fat (low-fat and reduced-fat) may contribute to observed associations of dairy foods with lower T2D risk.


  • Margolis KL, Wei F, de Boer IH, Howard BV, Liu S, Manson JE, Mossavar-Rahmani Y, Phillips LS, Shikany JM, Tinker LF. A diet high in low-fat dairy products lowers diabetes risk in postmenopausal women. J Nutr 2011;141:1969-1974.
  • Aune D, Norat T, Romundstad P, Vatten LJ. Dairy products and the risk of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of cohort studies. Am J Clin Nutr 2013;98:1066-1083.
  • Malik VS, Sun Q, van Dam RM, Rimm EB, Willett WC, Rosner B, Hu FB. Adolescent dairy product consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes in middle-aged women. Am J Clin Nutr 2011;94:854-861.
  • Gao D, Ning N, Wang C, Wang Y, Li Q, Meng Z, Liu Y, Li Q. Dairy products consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: Systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis. PloS One 2013;8:e73965.
  • Chen M, Sun Q, Giovannucci E, Mozaffarian D, Manson JE, Willett WC, Hu FB. Dairy consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: 3 cohorts of U.S. adults and an updated meta-analysis. BMC medicine 2014;12:215.
  • Elwood PC, Pickering JE, Givens DI, Gallacher JE. The consumption of milk and dairy foods and the incidence of vascular disease and diabetes: an overview of the evidence. Lipids 2010;45:925-939.

Southeast Dairy Association - Nina CrowleyNina Crowley, Ph.D., RD, LD is a bariatric-surgery-dietitian-turned-program coordinator at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, S.C. Nina holds a bachelor of science degree in Nutrition Science from Cornell University and a master of science in Health Care Policy and Management from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Active in her local and state dietetic associations, Nina has served as District President and as South Carolina Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics President and currently leads public policy efforts at the state level as Public Policy Coordinator. Nina enjoys networking with other professionals in the field and can be found tweeting as @PsychoDietitian.

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