Dairy foods help to prevent type 2 diabetes

Those at risk of developing type 2 diabetes are often advised to switch to reduced fat dairy, due to concerns surrounding saturated fat intake and weight gain, a known risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Reducing excessive body weight, particularly from around the waistline, reduces risk of developing type 2 diabetes and makes the condition easier to manage in those who have already developed it. Dairy foods are often thought to be associated with weight gain, despite recent evidence showing the opposite.1 Some health professionals are therefore reluctant to advise increased consumption of dairy foods to people at risk of, or with, type 2 diabetes. However the consumption of milk, yoghurt and cheese may assist with weight management and reduce waistlines when part of a balanced diet.2

Research has also shown that regular or high-fat milk products are not linked with development of type 2 diabetes. In fact, higher overall dairy intake and, in particular, higher intakes of cheese and yoghurt may be protective against type 2 diabetes. A meta-analysis published in 2014 reviewed 14 studies in relation to dairy food consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes.3 All types of dairy, including regular and low-fat dairy were not associated with development of type 2 diabetes, while yoghurt consumption was associated with an 18% reduced risk of type 2 diabetes development.

A further review looking at 16 separate studies and over 520,000 people found higher intakes of all varieties of milk, yoghurt and cheese was linked to an 11% reduction in the risk of type 2 diabetes, compared to people eating fewer dairy foods.4 Every 200 grams of total dairy foods was linked to a 6% reduction in type 2 diabetes risk. A 20% drop in the risk of type 2 diabetes was reported for every 30grams of cheese consumed per day.

In regards to mechanisms, it is likely that the calcium, vitamin D, protein and magnesium found in dairy foods may beneficially modulate insulin responses.5 There is also evidence to show certain fatty acids present in dairy foods, including pentadecanoic acid (15:0) may have a beneficial role in the prevention of type 2 diabetes.6

Most Australians need to increase their intake of milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives (mostly reduced-fat).7 Advice to switch from regular to reduced-fat dairy could lead to an overall reduction in dairy intake, meaning Australians are missing out on the unique package of nutrients and associated health benefits dairy provides.

1 Chen M, Pan A, Malik V, Hu F. Effects of dairy intake on body weight and fat: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J of Clin Nutr. 2012;96(4):735-47.

2 Abargouei A, Janghorbani M, Salehi-Marzijarani M, Esmaillzadeh A. Effect of dairy consumption on weight and body composition in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2012;36(12):1485-93.

3 Chen, M. Dairy consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: 3 cohorts of US adults and an updated meta-analysis. BMC Med. 2014;12:215.

4 Gao D, Ning N, Wang C, Wang Y, Li Q, Meng Z et al. Dairy products consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis. PLoS ONE. 2013;8(9):e73965.

5 Aune D, Norat, T, Romundstad, P, Vatten. 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;98:1066-83.

6 Forouhi NG, Koulman A, Sharp S, Imamra F, Kroger J, Schulze MB et al. Differences in the prospective association between individual plasma phospholipid saturated fatty acids and incident type 2 diabetes: the EPIC-InterAct case-cohort study. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. 2014;2:810-18.

7 Doidge JC, Segal L. Most Australians do not meet recommendations for dairy consumption: findings of a new technique to analyse nutrition surveys. Aust N Z J Pub Health. 2012;36(3):236-40.