On The Table

A collection of knowledge-based articles to inspire overall wellness.

Is Milk Good for Diabetics? The Great Dairy Debate

While known for its calcium content, does milk have sugar? If so, can diabetics drink milk without blood sugar spikes? These questions - and MOOre - answered here!

Is Milk Good for Diabetics? The Great Dairy Debate

If you have diabetes, you may have more questions than answers, especially when it comes to dairy. Is milk good for diabetics? Can diabetics eat cheese? Can diabetics drink whole milk? Is low-fat milk high in sugar? 

Keep reading to find answers to all your questions about milk and diabetes. 

Does Milk Have Sugar? 

Dairy is known to be a good source of calcium, and is often fortified with important nutrients like vitamin D. However, is sugar content a crucial factor for diabetics? 

Cow’s milk contains carbohydrates, which are also known as natural sugars. An average glass, which is 8 fluid ounces, delivers about 12 grams of carbohydrates. When compared to flavored milks, cow’s milk is actually considered quite low in sugar content. 

Amount Of Sugar In Flavored Milk

A recent study showed that nearly 3/4 of dairy products are flavored. Flavored products contain approximately twice as much sugar as unflavored products. This is due to the fact that these kinds of milk often have added sugars. 

Ingredients that may increase carbohydrate and added sugar include: 

• Corn sweetener (or high fructose corn syrup)
• Invert sugar
• Syrup or concentrates

Can Diabetics Drink Milk?

Milk alone is not necessarily the cause of swift blood sugar swings. Just like any eating pattern, balancing dairy in your meals and snacks can create an overall healthy diet. Don’t forget that in addition to sugar, milk also provides nutrients like protein and fat/

Learning how to read a nutrition label can help you decide what kind of milk is right for you. Take a look at saturated fat, carbohydrates, and added sugar levels before buying. The glycemic index can vary almost 50 points between cow’s milk and rice milk, so reading the label is key to understanding your options. 

According to the American Diabetes Association, having about 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per meal can fit well within a diabetes diet plan. In other words, having one serving of dairy (i.e. milk or cheese) per meal can contribute to healthy, daily carbohydrate counts. 

Whole Milk Glycemic Index

Milk is regarded as a low-glycemic food source. However, the glycemic index of milk varies from 30-40 depending on the type and source of the milk. 

Whole milk has a glycemic index of 31, which is considered low as it falls in between the range of 1-55. It is important to note that since whole milk is higher in fat content, it may not be the best choice for diabetics trying to lose weight. 

When it comes to milk, carbohydrate counts remain almost identical from reduced-fat or skim milk to whole and full-fat milk. Carbohydrate levels generally increase when you compare flavored milks to other kinds of cow’s milk. Be wary of lactose intolerant options as well, since soy or almond milk contains roughly 10-15 grams of sugar (on average). 

The best milk for you will likely depend on fat content. Whole milk is often preferred because of its taste and since it makes people feel more full (containing about 9 grams of fat per glass). Milk at 2% contains 5 grams per glass and skim contains 0 grams, which may make you feel less full. 

The Deal On The Dairy Debate For Diabetics

Milk contains natural sugars, but added sugars can contribute unnecessarily to carbohydrate counts. It’s important to understand that cow’s milk, cheese, and dairy can be part of a healthy, balanced diet for diabetics. 

Working with a dietitian or learning to read a label can help you decide what kind of dairy is right for you. 


Coyle DH, Ndanuko R, Singh S, Huang P, Wu JH. Variations in Sugar Content of Flavored Milks and Yogurts: A Cross-Sectional Study across 3 Countries. Curr Dev Nutr. 2019;3(6):nz060. 

Dlugos J. Which Milk Is Best for People With Diabetes? Livestrong. https://www.livestrong.com/article/486166-which-milk-is-best-for-diabetics/

Glycemic index diet: What’s behind the claims. Mayoclinic. Published August 2020. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/glycemic-index-diet/art-20048478

Sherrell Z. Everything to know about sugars in milk. Medical News Today. Published April 2021. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/sugar-in-milk.