Whether served with cereal or an afternoon snack, milk is a dairy product that’s a common part of many people’s diets. But for those with diabetes, milk’s carbohydrate count can impact blood sugar.

Milk contains lactose, a natural sugar or carbohydrate the body uses for energy. An 8-ounce serving of milk has 12 grams of carbohydrate.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommend eating between 45 and 60 grams of carbohydrate per meal. A standard glass of milk will then represent one-third to one-fourth of a recommended carbohydrate intake for a meal.

While cow’s milk offers calcium and taste benefits to those with diabetes, its impact on blood sugar may make other choices better ones.

Milk nutrition facts for people with diabetes

Many milk options can be found at the grocery store. These include varying percentages of cow’s milk to rice milk to almond milk. Consider the nutrition facts for some of the following milk options (all serving sizes are for one cup, or 8 ounces, of milk):

A jug and glass of milk.
People with diabetes should keep an eye on the carbohydrates in milk.

Whole milk

  • Calories: 149
  • Fat: 8 grams
  • Carbohydrate: 12 grams
  • Protein: 8 grams
  • Calcium: 276 milligrams

Skim milk

  • Calories: 91
  • Fat: 0.61 grams
  • Carbohydrate: 12 grams
  • Protein: 8 grams
  • Calcium: 316 milligrams

Almond milk (unsweetened)

  • Calories: 39
  • Fat: 2.88 grams
  • Carbohydrate: 1.52 grams
  • Protein: 1.55 grams
  • Calcium: 516 milligrams

Rice milk (unsweetened)

  • Calories: 113
  • Fat: 2.33 grams
  • Carbohydrate: 22 grams
  • Protein: 0.67 grams
  • Calcium: 283 milligrams

While these aren’t the only milk options for those with diabetes, they show how there are many different types of milk. Each milk type has its own qualities, from more to less calcium and more to fewer carbohydrates.

For example, almond milk has nearly zero carbohydrates while both whole and skim milk have 12 grams of carbohydrates. Some varieties of almond milk also have more calcium per cup than dairy milk does. Some plant milks are also very low in protein unless they contain added protein.

The almond and rice milks listed above are the unsweetened versions. Almond and rice milks that have sugars added contain higher amounts of carbohydrates.

What are the health benefits of milk?

Milk can be an important source of calcium, vitamin D, and protein in a person’s daily diet, as well as being part of their daily fluid intake.

A glass of milk next to some almonds.
Almond milk contains fewer calories and carbohydrates than whole milk.

The ADA recommend choosing low- or zero-calorie drinks whenever possible that are low in carbohydrates.

Examples include:

  • Coffee
  • Low-calorie drink mixes
  • Unsweetened tea
  • Water
  • Sparkling water

The ADA also list the option of low-fat milk as an addition to daily drink intake. They recommend choosing a low-fat or skim milk option whenever possible and adding it into a meal plan in terms of carbohydrate intake.

Other non-lactose-containing milk options include rice, almond, soy, or flax milk and other less-known options like hemp milk and cashew milk.

Milk doesn’t necessarily have to be a part of a diet at all. However, it’s important to remember that people should include some calcium-containing foods in their diet.

People should also remember that most dairy products will contain carbohydrates. This includes yogurt, cheese, and ice cream. Read nutrition labels carefully for serving sizes and carbohydrate counts.

Best milk for people with diabetes

The “best” milk for those with diabetes truly depends on a person’s flavor preferences, daily diet, and overall daily carbohydrate intake.

For example, if a person’s goal is to reduce their carbohydrate intake as much as possible, almond milk has nearly zero carbohydrates.

Skim milk can be a low-fat, low-calorie option for those who aren’t lactose intolerant. However, skim milk does contain carbohydrates. It’s important that people with diabetes include this carbohydrate count in their daily meal plans.

Milk and type 2 diabetes risk

Several research studies have attempted to find a link between drinking milk and a reduced risk for experiencing type 2 diabetes.

Milk pouring into a glass.
Some studies have linked milk to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.

A study published in the 2011 Journal of Nutrition examined 82,000 postmenopausal women who weren’t diagnosed with diabetes at the time of the study. Over the course of 8 years, the researchers measured the women’s intake of dairy products, including milk and yogurt.

The researchers concluded that “a diet high in low-fat dairy products is associated with lower diabetes risk in postmenopausal women, particularly those who are obese.”

Another study published in the 2011 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition tracked the relationship between a person’s dairy consumption during adolescence and their risk for type 2 diabetes as an adult. The researchers concluded that “higher dairy product intake during adolescence is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.”

A 2014 study from Lund University in Sweden published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found eating high-fat milk and yogurt reduces a person’s type 2 diabetes risk by as much as one-fifth.

The researchers examined the effects of different types of saturated fats on a person’s diabetes risk. They concluded that a diet high in the saturated fats found in milk was protective against type 2 diabetes. However, they found that a diet high in saturated fats from meat consumption was associated with higher risks for type 2 diabetes.

The choices of milk may be different for those who already have type 2 diabetes. Those with type 2 diabetes may be more concerned with carbohydrate than fat. However, these studies raise the point that not all fats, including those found in milk, are harmful to a person’s health.

Conclusion on milk and diabetes

A number of foods contain carbohydrate. These include bread, pasta, starchy vegetables, beans, milk, yogurt, fruits, sweets, and fruit juices. A common mistake for those with diabetes is forgetting to incorporate milk’s carbohydrate count into their daily intakes.

Examples of carbohydrate servings are one cup of cow’s milk or soy milk or 6 ounces of fat-free yogurt. These servings are equal to one small piece of fruit or a slice of bread in terms of carbohydrate counts or exchanges.

Moderation is the key to drinking any kind of milk. Reading food labels regarding serving sizes and carbohydrate amounts is an important step for those with diabetes.

If a person with diabetes is lactose intolerant, there are also milk options available. Examples include soy, almond, hemp, flax, and rice milk among others. A person may wish to try several different milk types to determine what taste they enjoy the most.