Dairy foods and type 2 diabetes management

Dairy foods such as milk, yoghurt and cheese can play an important role in managing type 2 diabetes. For example: Milk and yoghurt have a low glycaemic index (GI) so are ideal for people with diabetes. Low GI foods help prevent large ‘ups and downs’ of blood sugar levels. The glycaemic index ranks carbohydrate foods according to their effect on blood glucose (sugar) levels. The lower the GI, the slower the rise in blood glucose levels will be when the food is consumed. Foods with a GI of 70 and above are classified as high GI foods. Foods with a GI of 55 and below are low GI foods. Low GI foods are more slowly digested, absorbed and metabolised increasing feelings of fullness and reduced feelings of hunger.

Carbohydrate containing dairy foods such as milk and yoghurt are ideal low GI snacks and can be added as ingredients to lower the overall GI of a meal. This is due to the combination of dairy’s carbohydrate source (lactose) having a naturally low GI, and the presence of protein which helps slow the release of glucose into the bloodstream. A study showed a low GI diet high in dairy foods and fruit, but low in potatoes and cereals improved insulin sensitivity in adults 65 years and over.1 Cheese is also low GI, explained by its lower levels of carbohydrate and higher fat and protein content.

The table below outlines the GI values of carbohydrate-containing dairy foods.

Australian Dairy Products
GI Rating
Milk Regular-fat 31
Low-fat 30
  Skim 20–34
  Flavoured, low-fat 19
Yoghurt Natural 'fat-free'


'fat-free' (artificially sweetened)

Custard Vanilla, low-fat
Ice cream Vanilla, low-fat

Source: Sydney University’s Glycemic Index Research Service (Human Nutrition Unit, University of Sydney, Australia), unpublished observations, 1995-2007.

1 Du H, van der ADL, van Bakel MM, van der Kaellen CJ, Blaak EE, van Greevenbroek MM et al. Glycemic index and glycemic load in relation to food and nutrient intake and metabolic risk factors in a Dutch population. Am. J Clin. Nutr. 2008;87: 655-61.