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Is Whole Milk Healthy for Diabetes? Whole Milk or Low Fat Milk

Which is better: whole milk or low fat milk? I get this question very often from people asking about general health and people asking for specific conditions or diseases. With diabetes, there are great reasons to wonder, "is whole milk healthy for diabetes?" People with diabetes are at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Whole milk has a lot of fat and cholesterol, and we all know that fat and cholesterol are bad for your heart...right? And what about blood sugars--is whole milk or low fat milk better for that? Let's back up and review some of the facts.

cup of milk

Causes of Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular disease comes from excess buildup of cholesterol in the arteries. This prevents blood from flowing though smoothly. Eventually, if too much cholesterol gets attached to the walls of the arteries, they get blocked and prevent blood flow completely. Based on this, we would assume that we should not eat cholesterol.

In reality though, saturated fat from food is more closely linked to cardiovascular disease than cholesterol from food, and the link between dietary cholesterol and cardiovascular disease is weak. Still, whole milk has saturated fat too.

Cholesterol and Saturated Fat in Milk

Let's examine what the swap would look like. One cup of whole milk has 24mg cholesterol and 4.6gm saturated fat. One cup of 1% milk has 12mg cholesterol and 1.5gm saturated fat. The trade would reduce saturated fat intake by about 3gm.


Saturated Fat

Whole milk

24 mg

4.6 gm

2% milk

20 mg

3 gm

1% milk

12 mg

1.5 gm

fat free milk

5 mg

0.3 gm

Recommended Intake

Recommended limits for dietary cholesterol have been published in the past, and have recently been questioned due to not enough evidence showing reducing cholesterol to be beneficial in most people.

For saturated fat, the recommendation is that less than 10% of calories should be from saturated fat. For an average person, this would be about 22gm of saturated. One cup of whole milk fits within that recommendation.

Milk Intake and Blood sugar

Regarding blood sugar, there are also factors to consider. Both types of milk have equal amounts of carbohydrates, so that is not the deciding factor. Fat does slow digestion and slows the rise in blood sugar, so eating fat along with carbohydrates is often helpful for maintaining blood sugars in goal range.

Additionally, fat helps increase the feeling of satisfaction and fullness after eating. Drinking milk with more fat can keep you feeling full longer after you have eaten.

So, Is Whole Milk Healthy for Diabetes?

So which one should you choose? Really, it comes down to personal preference and situation. Do you feel that you would benefit from eating foods that will make you feel full, your cholesterol levels are normal, and you like the taste of whole milk? Maybe go with whole milk. Do you enjoy other high-saturated fat foods such as beef more than whole milk, maybe your cholesterol level has been elevated in the past, or you prefer low fat milk? Low fat milk can be a good idea then.

At the end of the day, it is the quality of an overall diet that can protect your health, not just an individual food. If your eating pattern in general is one that promotes heart health, the type of milk you drink likely will not make a difference. If your usual diet is poor quality, then choosing low fat milk will not fix that.

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