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Can Dairy Products Cause or Reduce the Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes?

May 1, 2014

Some dairy subgroups may be beneficial for diabetes prevention…. 

Dairy products are important sources for vitamins, minerals and protein. In some studies, consumption of dairy products has been associated with lower risk of type 2 diabetes and it is believed that some dairy-derived fatty acids may have protective effects in regards to diabetes prevention.

In this prospective, nested, case-cohort study, researchers investigated the association between dairy product intake and the risk of developing incident type 2 diabetes. This study encompassed data from the EPIC-Norfolk study, with analysis of a random sub-cohort and incident diabetes with an 11 year follow up.

Researchers assessed diet using a prospective 7-day food diary and estimated total dairy intake. Total diary intake data was categorized as high-fat dairy (≥3.9%) and low-fat dairy (<3.9% fat) and by subtype into yoghurt, cheese and milk. Of dietary intake, the largest contributors were milk (81.7%), cheese (8.7%) and yoghurt (7.6%).

Using Prentice-weighted Cox regression HRs, researchers found no associations with development of diabetes in regards to total dairy, high-fat dairy, milk, cheese and high-fat fermented dairy product intake. An inverse association was found between diabetes and low-fat fermented dairy product intake (HR= 0.76, tertile 3 verse tertile 1, [CI 95%, 0.60 to 0.99, P-trend = 0.049]). Researchers found that being in the highest tertile of low-fat fermented dairy product intake (consuming approximately 80 g/day) was associated with a 24% decrease in risk for developing incident diabetes. This equates 125 gram portion sizes of low-fat fermented dairy products 4.5 times per week. In multivariable adjusted analyses the inverse association was specifically apparent with yoghurt intake (HR=0.72, CI 95%, 0.55 to 0.95, P-trend = 0.017). These findings were independent of age, sex, family history of diabetes, BMI, lifestyle factors.

Practice Pearls:
  • Consumption of specific dairy types may be beneficial for the prevention of diabetes
  • Increased consumption of dairy products containing low-fat fermented dairy products, particularly yoghurt, was associated with a decreased incidence of type 2 diabetes
  • Food group subtypes may be important considerations in regards to nutritional education and practice

O’connor LM, Lentjes MA, Luben RN, Khaw KT, Wareham NJ, Forouhi NG. Dietary dairy product intake and incident type 2 diabetes: a prospective study using dietary data from a 7-day food diary. Diabetologia. 2014;57(5):909-17. Accessed online from: