Is Milk Bad for You? Diabetes and Milk

Is cow’s milk good food for people, especially people with diabetes? The American Diabetes Association (ADA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) say yes. Given how I feel about ADA and USDA’s record on nutrition advice, I think we should check for ourselves.

ADA recommends two to three servings of low-fat milk (or other low-fat dairy food such as cheese and yogurt) each day. “Including sources of dairy products in your diet is an easy way to get calcium and high-quality protein,” according to their nutrition page.


USDA says three cups a day for people age nine and up. But what do independent experts say? And what does the data say?

Many disagree about milk’s being healthy. Dr. Mark Hyman, author of The Blood Sugar Solution, wrote,

I typically advise most of my patients to avoid dairy products completely… From an evolutionary point of view, milk is a strange food for humans. Until 10,000 years ago we didn’t domesticate animals and weren’t able to drink milk… The majority of humans naturally stop producing significant amounts of lactase — the enzyme needed to [deal with] lactose, the sugar in milk — sometime between the ages of two and five.

OK. So some experts disagree with the government. But we have to start at the beginning. What is milk anyway?

What Milk Is Made Of
Milk is food produced by mammal mothers to feed their young. Mammal milks are all similar, but they have important differences in the specific proteins. It may be that cow’s milk is not a good match for most human populations.

Milk has significant amounts of fat, protein, and carbohydrate in one package. Normal cow’s milk contains 30–35 grams of protein per liter, mostly in the form of casein. It also contains dozens of other proteins in small amounts, various minerals, and vitamins A, B complex, C, D, K, and E.

What could be wrong with that? Let’s look a little more closely.

Milk Protein Linked to Type 1 Diabetes?
There are four different types of casein proteins, called alpha-S1, alpha-S2, beta, and kappa caseins. Other milk proteins are called “whey” proteins.

A variant of beta-casein known as A1 beta-casein has been implicated in causing Type 1 diabetes. In genetically vulnerable children, A1 beta-casein may set off an immune response that later turns against the beta cells in the pancreas.

Children who drink cow milk have been found more likely to develop Type 1 later on. Other scientists say this evidence is weak and the studies were flawed. I think children should be kept off cow’s milk formulas at least until their first birthday.

Milk Fat
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) defines a serving of dairy as 8 ounces of nonfat or low-fat milk or yogurt.

This low-fat advice appears unsupported by science. Most of the good stuff in milk is in the fats. According to Wikipedia, “the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K along with essential fatty acids such as linoleic and linolenic acid are found within the milk fat portion of milk.”

Some evidence supports milk fat as being protective against Type 2 diabetes. A study published in the December 2010 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine followed 3,736 men for 10 years and found that those who had the highest blood levels of a type of fatty acid from whole-fat (not nonfat) dairy foods had 60% less chance of developing Type 2 diabetes than men with the lowest levels.

As one of the authors commented, “This is an extremely strong protective effect, stronger than other things we know can be beneficial against diabetes.”

Several other studies have demonstrated that dairy consumption lowers risk for insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, or diabetes. Researchers credit a fatty acid found in dairy products, trans-palmitoleic acid as the possible protective compound.

In various studies, higher levels of trans-palmitoleic acid were associated with numerous desirable outcomes: lower body-mass index, smaller waist circumference, lower triglyceride levels, lower levels of C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation), lower fasting insulin levels, and less insulin resistance.

Milk Sugars
Milk sugar is called lactose. Lactose gives milk its sweet taste and contributes approximately 40% of whole cow’s milk’s calories.

Lactose can definitely raise your blood glucose. An enzyme called lactase splits it up into glucose and galactose. Because this split takes time, some nutritionists say lactose converts to blood glucose relatively slowly (that is to say, it has a low glycemic index or GI).

But others say that dairy may have a low GI but stimulates insulin as if it had a high GI. Loren Cordain, PhD, of Colorado State Department of Health and Exercise Science, believes this may be due to the combination of lactose and some of the amino acids in whey proteins.

Cordain, author of The Paleo Answer, says the insulin response to milk is “extreme,” and advises people concerned about diabetes to avoid milk products.

It’s hard to reconcile the supposedly healthful affects of dairy fat with the supposedly harmful effects of dairy sugar. Should we drink it or not?

Different Kinds of Milk
There are other milks besides human and cow. Goat milk is gaining popularity. Camel milk is said by many to be extremely nutritious. It’s now for sale in the US. Vegan milks include soy milk, rice milk, and almond milk.

You might consider buying either free-range, grass-fed organic milk or using a vegan alternative. According to Discovery Health, milk cows are given hormones to increase their milk production and antibiotics to decrease infections. Neither of these is good to eat.

Lactose Intolerance
People who don’t have sufficient lactase to digest lactose will be “lactose intolerant,” and may suffer diarrhea, intestinal gas, cramps, and bloating from drinking milk.

It is estimated that 30 to 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant, including up to 75% of Native Americans and African-Americans, and 90% of Asian Americans.

Lactose-free or reduced lactose milk is available. It has been treated with lactase to break lactose down, so it doesn’t cause abdominal problems. It is sweeter than regular milk and has a higher glycemic index.

So is milk good or bad? I am confused. How has it been for you?

  • John_C

    Well I do use milk (actually a ‘small’ scoop of high fat ice cream) to treat a hypo.. Turns a bad situation into a treat :)

    Couldn’t agree more with your conclusions — lactose is sugar! And it certainly takes very little time to raise blood sugar.

    I avoid milk for lots of reasons (many in your blog). I do eat a fair amount of ‘real’ cheese, but the fermentation process gets rid of the sugars. Read the back of package: Carbs = 0.

    Gee David, I would be careful if someone comes to your door with a violin case that has an ADA sticker on it.

  • Dawn

    I drink milk, but for the protein, only after I have been to the gym or worked out at home. One glass a day during the week. If I drink it any other time my blood sugars go crazy, even though I pump one unit for each 15 grams of carb and have no trouble with my other carbs! Not sure why it happens. I love milk but no can do on a regular basis!

  • Smith

    I don’t think any one should stop having milk for diabetes. Milk is natural sugars which are beneficial to health. I was brought up drinking milk at every meal, and I still drink fat free milk every day with meals, and sometimes as my snack as well.
    Our bodies deal differently on the food we eat, we are all different and declaring that one-food-type is good or not good over another-food-type can be misleading.
    AS my personal experience i want to suggest it is good to have one and half glasses of milk daily including tea. is it applicable for the patients with diabetes and Stay Diabetes Free.

  • Joe

    Skimmed milk contains roughly the same amount of sugar as fruit juice or soda pop and should be handled roughly the same way -as a treat, not a daily food.

  • Mishelle Whitmire

    If you enjoy milk and it doesnt make your blood sugars go crazy… then have some. I tried so hard to keep my mom away from the milk (before she passed away) She LOVED milk. BUT it would take her blood sugars to 350 ish. She was just a milk lover. My 17 yr old son was having trouble with digestive issues. He would get bouts of diarrhea at school (during class) which was really embarrassing to him. This happened about 3 times.
    Went to gastroenterologist, they asked him to get off milk. What do you know?? It all went away. He no longer has those stomach issues and he no longer drinks any milk. Will have ice cream from time to time. We are the only animals on the planet that still drink milk AFTER we have been weaned. Just like the article above, we dont have the enzymes anymore. But as far as blood sugar..for most people it raises blood sugar. It just does. Everyone is different and can tolerate different foods. But for our family…Milk is NOT a good addition.

  • James

    I used to have lots of health problems that I found was caused by milk and other dairy products
    and after I quit them my health was much better,just go online and ask if milk is healthy for you and you will find much good advise.

  • Greg Nowlan

    I have found that staying with a healthy serve on my diabetes approved cereal and a little drizzle in my 2 or 3 coffees a day has helped me lose weight and get more improvement in hypertension and type 2 diabetes with high lipids and ldl levels reducing too.My Doctor has had a pleasant surprise with my hba1C and ldl and lipid falls from blood tests at
    I have read a lot on cinnamon and intend chatting with my doctor and specialists asap to look at offerings in my local health store, the proprietor of which is quite well informed on miracles and reality for most of us here in the Australian Capital.
    I have quite enjoyed reading your chats with people on this site too. Good luck always and I will let you know if Cinnamon becomes more high profile in my diet.
    Ys Greg.

  • Greg Nowlan

    Sorry I should have expressed skim milk – cows.
    Find it quite inexpensive here and it lasts with refrigeration much longer than 2% or any alternative in cows milks.

  • renu bala

    my mom have deibteis problem need information about it

  • terence martin uk

    how much sugar in 1 litre skimmed milk,also how much sugar in 1 litre of whole milk.??

  • Patrick O’Rourke

    I asked the docs about milk and they told me it was okay for diabetics. What I don’t think they realized is that I can easily drink a gallon a day. But now I realize also why my sugar has been 250-300. I think I will just drink water because if Ihave my low-fat milk in the house I will guzzle it down like water.
    That will be my new years resolution to break.

  • Bharti Patel

    Lately my blood sugar is high some day and normal on another day and as i was concern about this i googled and came to this site. I don’t usually drink milk at night before going to bed but i have done it for last couple of weeks and as my sugar is now high i am going to stop drinking milk and let you guys know of my result.

  • David Spero RN

    Thanks, Bhari. Please keep us posted.


  • Rudolph Cambridge

    Thank you for the information I’ve received reading your experiences with cow’s milk and the problems with diabetes. My experience with whole milk after drinking it causes the same reaction. My number rises to 300-400 after a good glass of milk. Does eggs and cheese, also dairy have the same effect? Please advise.

  • Pedro Brandão

    Some useful reading:

    “Devil in the Milk: Illness, Health and the Politics of A1 and A2 Milk”, from Keith Woodford

    “Diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases”, Technical Report nº 916, WHO and FAO

    “Don’t Drink Your Milk! New Frightening Medical Facts About the World’s Most Overrated Nutrient”, from Frank A. Oski MD

    “Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care”, from B. Spock and R. Needlman

    “Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes: The Scientifically Proven System for Reversing Diabetes Without Drugs”, from Neal Barnard

    “Food Allergy: Adverse Reactions to Food and Food Additives”, from D. D. Metcalfe and Hugh Sampson

    “Hold the Cheese Please! A Story for Children About Lactose Intolerance”, from Frank J. Sileo

    “Mad Cows and Milk Gate”, from Virgil M. Hulse

    Hope that helps.

  • Suzanne Connelly

    I have today discovered this site. I was looking to confirm what I thought I discovered. I am Type 2 Diabetic. I thought I had a thought to discontinue dairy as an experiment about six weeks ago. I don’t usually drink milk but do put either milk or cream in my coffee. To make up for the that lack of calcium, I eat cheese and yogurt. Well, I guess per this site a lot of people do know what I did not. My blood sugar has gone down. I am amazed and happy about it. I thought it was just me. Thank you, all.

  • Addy

    Interesting article, though I do take issue with one of the quotes provided:

    “The majority of humans naturally stop producing significant amounts of lactase — the enzyme needed to [deal with] lactose, the sugar in milk — sometime between the ages of two and five.” it basically states that “the majority of humans” stop producing the enzyme needed to deal with lactose at a very young age; and thusly that “the majority of humans” should – by that assumption – therefore be lactose intolerant to some degree; lacking a substantial enough amount of the enzyme to process it.

    While there are quite a many out there who are – or who experience adverse effects due to the blood sugar problems – this is very simply and quite obviously NOT the case. It is nowhere near a “majority” that can’t handle lactose. At least half if not more people out there are capable of handling and digesting it just fine, with no problems.

    Obviously, if an individual experiences any sort of problems with lactose-based products, they should most definitely look into reducing and/or cutting out intake of them altogether; however, purporting a statement such as the above as all-around fact as Dr. Mark Hyman was quoted as doing does disincline me to bother with anything else he would say.

    I personally think that all things considered, the advantages and/or disadvantages of milk/lactose-products as a whole is something that can really only be gauged on an individual level. As with most things related to food intolerance / allergies / blood sugar, it’s really up to each individual to figure out the “best mix” for themselves with the aid of their doctor/nutritionist. It’s really just trial and error until a good, stable solution is found (and even that may change eventually).

    There are just some things that “studies” can’t give answers for to everyone across the board. Honestly, that’s most things in general; but in my opinion, this is definitely one of them.

  • framklin panama

    i am having a type 2 diabetics, i am having problem making love to my wife, secondly i don’t see fluid coming from my penis each time i make love pls advise

  • David Clark

    People have commented that we are the only species that drink milk after having been weaned.

    That is true, I have never seen a tiger drawing milk from a cow. Nor a chimpanzee in Asda, buying milk. Nor a rattlesnake have a cappuccino in a coffee shop.

    What a ridiculous thing to say.

    We are the only species to cook food. Does this mean it would be more sensible and healthy to eat everything raw?

  • Linda Ingram

    I came to this site after querying diabetes and dairy. Like an earlier poster I stopped drinking dairy about 3 weeks ago to see if I have lactose issues. Besides clearly up some gastro issues I was having my blood sugar test has been dropping steadily. I am now getting the lowest readings I have had in years! I was sitting here thinking about the trend this morning and realized the only difference in my diet, medicine, and exercise has been the elimination of dairy. I am drinking unsweetened almond milk and find it a very pleasant substitute. Experiment over…this is now a permanent change!

  • Sandra Dovali

    I use full fat goat’s milk (mostly in yogurt form) – less carbs and more diabetic friendly. I eat unprocessed “raw” cheeses – also more diabetic friendly. Where I live in Berkeley, California all are readily available even at our Trader Joe’s!

  • william

    I am completely confused. Is milk good for diabetics or not.
    A simple yes or no will suffice.

  • David Spero RN

    Hi William,

    I’m afraid there is no simple yes or no for everybody. You have to test to see how it affects you. One thing I would say is that nonfat milk doesn’t make much sense for most people. The good stuff is in the fats, so if you’re going to drink it, drink the real thing. But that’s just my opinion, based on the research I quoted in the blog. Sorry I can’t be more definite.

  • william

    Hi David Sperno. I thank you for your reply, however I guess I already knew the answer but was looking for a new revelation. Whole milk, 2%, and buttermilk (low-fat) all have 13 grams of sugar per cup. I don’t know about skim milk. This has been bad news for a diabetic who was a milk lover. With Oreos of course.



  • Jhen Lao

    Hi, my DM has just been recently diagnosed. I love milk and I was so sad when I read this page but still very thankful for the information. I don’t eat a lot of rice or chocolates that’s why the DM came as a big surprise. But I love milk and yogurt and cheese! So recently I am trying to stay away from all this and tomorrow I will have another round of medical laboratory to know my recent FBS, Sgpt and others and I will see if staying away from milk will make any difference. I just want to know what alternatives to milk can we take now, I mean to get the calcium that we need? I read here about almond milk, can that fill our need for calcium? Thank you!

  • Linda Vaughn

    It’s no secret milk has carbs/sugar (via lactose): 11 grams per cup. Why is that a problem? Just include it in your carb count per meal, and watch what you have with it. Milk has protein, which is especially good for diabetics (good to have protein w/carbs.) I don’t get how milk could be considered a “weird” food that we invented: babies are breastfed the stuff.–And surely, that happened long before those invented foods. It’s not like “fake” foods, such as Margarine, which is like eating plastic. So why is it again that you think it’s bad? I agree the hormones they add is sooo wrong, but as long as you buy the stuff that manufacturers haven’t messed with (except homogenized, of course) why is it a problem? Besides, the govt. doesn’t say ONLY milk. As you pointed out, that milk quota includes cheese, yogurt, etc. Without those, yikes, we’d be missing tons of nutrients.

  • m

    To Linda,

    The problem with milk and yogurt is that they seem to spike blood sugar much more than you would expect for their level of carbs. It’s not a severe problem for everyone, but for others it is, and something that everyone should be aware of so that they can keep an eye out for it. Scientists aren’t sure of the reasons behind this unusually large insulin or blood sugar spike as the result of dairy consumption. One suspected reason is that there are many growth hormones naturally present in milk. Not just synthetic hormones fed to cows by dairy farmers, but natural hormones naturally present in milk, no matter how the cows are treated by farmers. Why? You said it yourself – babies are breastfed the stuff. It is naturally meant to be something that rapidly growing people eat. Perhaps if you are a dedicated athlete looking to grow a lot of muscle, regular milk consumption makes sense for you. But for most adults with only normal levels of exercise, such a surge in sugar and growth material may not be a good idea. While some people seem able to consume dairy with no ill effects, many do not even realize the number of medical problems that have been linked to milk – spikes in insulin and blood sugar, all manner of digestive issues, migrains, and for some children, ADD and ADHD. Do your research.

  • m

    p.s. – as long as you avoid junk food and eat a varied diet, it is not at all difficult to find all of the nutrients you need without consuming any dairy. Many lactose intolerant people do just fine!

  • Dahad Pune

    I am diabetic type 2 for 16 yrs. I just bumped onto this site and now I realised the surprise unbelievable and shocking reason for sudden jumps in my sugar levels time and again. WHENEVER I DRANK MILK THE PREVIOUS NIGHT, MY SUGAR LEVEL WENT SKY ROCKETING!! This is my conclusion after realising and recollecting past history OF 16 YEARS! Just 2 days ago my fasting sugar was 102 and next day it was 158. The only change in 2 days was 2 large cup of milk previous night and that too INSTEAD OF NORMAL DINNER!
    I have now decided to experiment NO MILK FOR ABOUT A MONTH AND REPORT BACK.

  • David Spero RN

    Hi Dahad,

    Yes please do report back. Hope the no milk diet helps.

  • tomas

    To be short and concise,my (a1c) plummeted, (9.6) to (5.5)when i stopped drinking milk….Milk sucks !!

  • visalasree

    after having a look into all the above discussions and suggestions , i want to give one small suggestion that don’t take milk or any high sugar containing foods in the night because of lack of work night times we wont be able to utilise the sugars properly especially in diabetics, so please don’t avoid milk completely, instead of night you please try to take in the mornings , so that full day you will do some work and your blood glucose will not be so high for a long time, and try to finish of your dinner by 7:30- 8:00pm and then see the result. daily do 30 min yoga prpoerly it will help you a lot in order to regularise your metabolism.

  • samandar

    I am a mild type 2 diabetic , my diet consisted of daily cereal and a full glass of reduced fat milk .Since I stopped my overall blood sugar has reduced, my fasting sugar has dropped an average of 15 units.I think its due to the combination of avoiding both the cereal and milk. good luck to all you type 2 diabetics !

  • Dr Deborah Shulman

    you have a lot to learn – maybe nutrition 101 in university would heal your ignorance issues:
    -Your feelings about the ADA and the USDA matter? I mean who in the devil are you? you don’t have a pertinent degree or education (obviously) and parade yourself as outside the mainstream? Yes, outside the mainstream of knowledge about the human body, history and nutrition
    -You cite an MD with an agenda as an expert negating a whole body of academic research?
    -We are not the only species to drink other mammals milk – dogs and cats will lap it up when they get it and that is the point. We are the only species capable of milking another species. mammal means of the mammary gland – we can drink their milk and they can drink ours
    -Anthropologists, physiologists (like me and I also have a BS in nutritional science) and the bible consider milk the perfect food
    -your discussion on lactose and the components of milk demonstrate your superficial knowledge of nutrition, physiology and the glycemic index
    — milk is made of grass (ideally) – it is fermented by bacteria in the rumen which create the milk. Ruminant animals are able to convert inedible grasses into a highly nutritious substance. It is never part of the rumninants body and the components do not come from the blood stream.

  • Dr Deborah Shulman

    so – I noticed that you filter comments. i’ll check back to see if you have the honesty and integrity to post mine. Also, please address the considerable body of research that show numerous beneficial aspects of milk. I was trained in research – there is not a nefarious exclusion of research against milk (the negative press is generated by uneducated pop nutrition outside of academia). MDs who are not trained in nutrition in school and from my experience know next to nothing about nutrition write books – this is who you believe? So, since there is a huge body of research that does not support your contentions, please address why this might be.

  • Helen

    I recently became interested in gluten sensitivity problems, and one of the issues raised repeatedly in the research is cross-reactivity of gluten and milk protein. Thinking that gluten might be the cause of my blood sugar issues (pre-diabetic), I bit the bullet and did a 3-week elimination diet — no gluten, dairy, eggs, corn, soy, peanuts or sugar. It was tough, but I got through it, and by the end of the first week my bg averages dropped 20 points, and were staying under 100 all day! I added eggs back in… still fine. Even a small amount of gluten didn’t raise the number much. But yesterday for the first time in 6 weeks I ate 2 large servings of my beloved raw milk whole fat yogurt, and this morning my fasting bg was 141! Whatever the reason, it’s now clear to me that dairy can’t be part of my diet if I want to keep my bg low. Those wonderful readings in the 70s and 80s all day are plenty of evidence for me!!

  • dinesh butola

    I am really confused, can u tell us what is the good & bad percentage in having milk for diateses patient.

  • Carlos

    I think you should include cinnamon to your skim milk. and drink apple cider vinegar,2tbsp with water morning and night

  • Barry

    I am a molecular biologist at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, and recently an article came out providing a mechanistic link between dairy consumption and a number of diseases including diabetes. The article is scientific in nature but it can be assessed at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nihigov/pmc/articles/PMC3725179/pdf/1475-2891-12-103.pdf (Melnik (2013) Nutrition Journal 12:103 ‘Milk is not just food but most likely a genetic transfection system activating mTORC1 signaling for postnatal growth’.)
    At least one person on the blog mentioned that milk may aggravate blood sugar levels apart from the actual sugar in milk. The attached article provides a basis for this response. The protein in milk has a very high content of leucine and tryptophan, and these amino acids act as endocrine messengers to turn on metabolism. There is evidence that daily consumption of milk can cause insulin insensitivity over time in part because of the activation of hormones like IGF-1 and insulin.
    I believe that the dairy industry has some concern over these recent findings, since the paper I have referenced provides a mechanistic link between dairy and certain diseases. This mechanistic evidence is much stronger than clinical studies in showing the relationship between milk, metabolism and how they are linked to certain diseases. I don’t have diabetes, but I tried the 3 week fasting experiment with milk and I have felt better since significantly reducing dairy products from my diet. Now I mainly eat cheese, and I drink very little milk except for tea and coffee.

  • John Martynski

    You really didn’t answer the question. Can a type 2 diabetic drink 2 percent or skim milk, yes or no.

  • David Spero RN

    I don’t have an answer for you, John. Of course a person with Type 2 can drink whatever kind of milk he or she wants. I believe whole milk is probably healthier, and no milk at all may be best for most people with diabetes. But it’s very individual. I would advise doing some glucose monitoring after drinking to see how different milks affect you personally.

  • Norman

    My wife and I both have Diabetes and my wife drinks a lot of Skim mile and I just use a little on ceral. My A1c is 5.6 and hers is over 10.
    This should tell her something is not right but she will not stop drinking milk. If your going to drink milk, why not just get a spoonfull from the sack of sugar.

  • Flemming

    I have diabet 2. I have always been drinking a lot of milk. 2-3 liters per day. I used to drink light milk, but someone suggested to dring A2 ful cream milk. I tried this for a few days and my sugar level seems to go up.
    I am otherwise healthy for my age. Everything is normal blood preasure, colesteral etc. Have no headaches, no rebuilds joints. So maybe me drinking milk does some good. Trying to find low sugar milk when I saw this site. Very interesting

  • snehal

    This has done wonders in many diabetic patients, apple therapy has given wonderful results. It is founded by Mr. Prakhe. He is from Poona, India. A patient should eat a medium size apple or to begin, half apple in the morning on empty stomach and then take a walk for minimum 20 mints. Apple initially increases sugar and then brings it down but does not take a patient to hypoglicemic condition. Try it.

  • SAN

    I am type 2, and drink Hood Calorie Countdown 2 percent milk. It is ideal for diabetics, because there’s no sugar and only 3 grams of carbohydrate per cup. The chocolate version is excellent, and very low carb too. This is the only milk I have found that does not spike my glucose levels. Unfortunately, the chain of grocery stores I shop at has suddenly stopped carrying this milk.

    I am searching for it elsewhere, but no luck so far. If anyone knows where to find this product in the Seattle area, please let me know – I am extremely upset and angry over the sudden difficulty in finding this milk.