Dairy & Diabetes Part 2 – milk comparisons and more ideas

Guest Post Sally Marchini, Dietitian

Hoping that after last week’s blog on dairy foods, you found some inspiration to meet your dietary targets for dairy and alternatives, especially knowing how good it is for glycemic control.  This past week has also brought more evidence to light about the health benefits of consuming dairy, all the more reason to make it a focus in your own eating regime.

As promised, this week we’ll take a closer look at the nutritional differences between dairy and its alternatives and a few practical examples of how to incorporate more into your diet if you’re not meeting the guidelines.

So starting with the nutritional differences, I decided to make you a table based on various milks/milk alternatives. I searched CalorieKing.com.au and found what 250ml of each drink contained. Where there’s a dash (-) there was no data available.

Type of drink (250ml) Energy (kJ) Carb (g) Protein (g) Total Fat  (g) Calcium (mg) Sodium (mg) Fibre   (g)
Lactose free, skim 360 12 8.5 0.3 305 88
Cow’s full fat 738 15.8 8.8 8.8 270 113
Cow’s skim 375 12.5 9 0.3 300 125 0
Almond, unsweetened 178 1 1.5 3.5 187.5 100 0.8
Soy milk, lite 398 7.5 7.5 3.8 300 225 1.3
Soy milk, regular 550 8 8 7.5 300 225 1.3

So when you’re considering what type of milk or milk alternative you should be having, not only does your decision depend on your intolerances but you also should think about the energy balance in your diet as well as calcium (aim for the 300mg mark per 250ml/1200mg per 100ml), sodium and even fibre!

When it comes to the carbs, remember that we encourage low-GI carbs with each meal and with snacks for many reasons (see benefits of low-GI blog for more info) including our glycemic control. So dairy carbs are good carbs for us with diabetes. Avoiding them won’t do you any favours.

Taking a further look at energy, you can see that those containing higher levels of fat are much higher in energy so if you’re watching your weight it makes sense to choose the lower fat varieties. The cow’s full fat has twice as much energy/kilojoules as the skim version, and a little less calcium.

For calcium, most of us as adults need between 1000mg and 1300mg per day, as outlined on page 154 of the National Health and Medical Research Council document of Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand. It’s also clear that the soy milks stand up well against the cow’s milk options, but have a third less carbohydrate and close to double the sodium in comparison.

In terms of meeting those 2.5-4 serves of dairy each day as outlined in the Australian Dietary Guidelines for Adults, breakfast is excellent place to start.  As we also have diabetes to consider, we need to think through how many carb serves we’re having when we have a serve of dairy meaning sometimes a full serve will need to be halved. I’ve tried to explain this in more details with the examples provided.

If you’re making a smoothie with frozen berries, ¼ cup of raw oats and 500ml skim milk, that gives you two dairy serves first up, and three good quality carb serves to get you up and running in the morning as well as many other nutritional benefits.

Making a milk based coffee is also a good start. 250ml milk with strong coffee added will make you feel like you’re in a cafe having a latte and gives you a carb serve.  Have that with your low-GI breakfast cereal served with milk and you’re already 1.5 serves on your way.

A tub of yogurt also makes an awesome low-GI snack, whether its morning tea, afternoon tea or dessert/supper.  A quick look at CalorieKing.com.au tells me that a 100g tub of a low-fat fruit flavoured yogurt is about one carb serve (about 15g carb) and equates to half a serve of dairy. There’s no harm in having two of these across your day either if you enjoy them.

When it comes to cheese we should be careful from a heart health point of view, but if you can aim to choose a low-sodium variety, a couple of slices will provide you with the equivalent of a serve of dairy – great for a sandwich. And of course, there’s no need to think about carbs with this one! You could use the equivalent of grated in your main meal or through a salad to add some oompff to your veggies.

And to finish off your day with a good low-GI pre-bed snack dairy is the perfect option. A warm glass of milk should help to get you nodding off and help to keep your blood sugars stable through the night.

Watch out for ice cream, as although it’s a dairy source there’s only 100mg of calcium (1/3 of a serve) in half a cup of ice cream (about 2 carb serves). It is fine as a sometimes food in measured amounts.

How do You ensure an adequate dairy intake?

Sally 🙂

Sally is owner of her private practice (Marchini Nutrition), has had type 1 diabetes for close to 40 years and coeliac disease for many years too.