Going to the Grocery Store With Diabetes: The Dairy Aisle — Yogurt and Cheese

We’re in the process of making our way around the perimeter of the grocery store. Last week, we examined how to determine which produce makes the most sense for our diabetes management, budget, and health. This week, let’s stay on the outskirts (and a place where you usually need a sweatshirt, especially if the AC is kicking in the summer) in the dairy aisle.

Over the years you may have read articles on how low-fat dairy can help you lose weight. On the other hand, you may have read just the opposite, that dairy and lactose is the cause of all our digestive evils and hinders weight loss! The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends low-fat dairy as part of a healthy daily diet.

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The good news about most of the items in the dairy section is that they are wonderful and versatile ingredients. You can get some great protein and calcium throughout this area, for instance. The protein component can be especially useful for helping manage blood sugars.

Most recently, probiotics have been in the spotlight, teaching people that yogurt can be a great food. However, not all types of yogurt are necessarily good for you. The great butter-versus-margarine debate is also a hot topic with nutritionists and consumers. Here are some key pointers that will help you to navigate the delicious dairy section.

Why go Greek
Both regular and Greek yogurt contain live active cultures (probiotics) to aid in the growth of good gut bacteria, and both types are a great source of protein and calcium. If you choose Greek, make sure you get the authentic Greek yogurt and not those labeled as “Greek style,” since the latter version will likely contain more added sugars and additives. Choosing Greek yogurt will also provide you with extra protein and lower lactose (which, depending on the other ingredients, can mean lower carb). Just make sure when it comes to blood sugars that you are looking at the big picture on the Nutrition Facts label. The more fruit or toppings that are added, the more carb the yogurt is likely to contain. Try to go for a brand that has no more than 20 grams of carb per serving. Some great times to have yogurt are before bed or as a snack to help ward off hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar (the protein and carb blend really works great for this). Another idea to reduce the sugar content but maintain the flavor is to get plain Greek yogurt and add a dash of almond extract, cinnamon, or a few bites of natural fruit or granola.

Butter versus margarine
Any dietitian will tell you to stick with real butter. Butter has high levels of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) and margarine does not. Margarine also typically has trans fat, which should be avoided (in fact, stay away from anything that has “hydrogenated” in the ingredients). Moreover, margarine is often chemically refined, which destroys vitamin E. Butter is better for those who want a more natural product. Moderation is key, though, keeping in mind that both spreads have roughly 100 calories per tablespoon.

Cheese choices
Whether to go fat-free, low-fat, or full-fat with shredded cheese, cheese sticks, or cream cheese is sometimes a taste preference and other times a health preference. Full-fat cheese is delicious and nutritious but chock-full of saturated fat and cholesterol. Full-fat cheeses should really be used sparingly and for those recipes where low-fat or fat-free versions just can’t be substituted without compromising the taste. But remember, when fat is taken out, oftentimes sodium, sugar, or other flavorings are put into the product to improve the taste. As for your diabetes, you may want to go with a a bit of carbohydrate and a small portion of full-fat cheese if you are trying to help keep hypoglycemia at bay during certain parts of the day or before exercise.

On a final note, the store brand of most food items is perfectly fine compared to the more expensive, brand-name counterpart. Just because a food is the store brand doesn’t mean the nutrition has been taken out to make it cheaper!

Because the dairy aisle is so extensive, I didn’t want to try to cram too much information into one piece. Next week, I’ll provide you with tips and information on eggs, milk, and other snack options. But for now, go sit down and make yourself a list of things you regularly buy in the dairy section and see where you may want to make some substitutions. Planning ahead is always the best way to stick with healthy eating goals.

If your diabetes has made working impossible, disability pay may be an option. Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to learn more.