Modern trends and research have made it very clear that the food we eat can have dramatic impacts on our health. That’s part of the reason that so many people are turning towards natural foods and away from highly processed products and ones filled with sugar.
But sometimes, the connections between certain foods and health isn’t as obvious as you might think.
One key example of this is the connection between dairy and diabetes – a relationship that is associated with protein.
Now, some research suggests that obtaining higher protein intake can help to decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes. Additionally, high protein diets may help patients with diabetes to control their blood sugar levels (1,2).
However, not all sources of protein are the same.
Instead, research suggests that different sources of protein may vary in the specific impacts that they have on the body. Likewise, research has found that plant-based and dairy-based foods can have dramatically different impacts on nutrient intake, creating concern about nutrient deficiency in people who consume largely plant-based diets (3).
These patterns make it more critical than ever to consider the connection between dairy and diabetes.
After all, many people do actively avoid dairy or try to limit their intake in an effort to improve health. Yet, dairy itself can offer significant advantages, including the health benefits of yogurt and even of butter.
Recently, one study (Comeford & Pasin, 2016) took a detailed look at the connection between dietary protein source and type 2 diabetes. Their discussion considered the outcomes of a range of different research, along with mechanisms behind these outcomes.
In this post, I’m going to take a look at some of their conclusions and particularly focus on the implications for the relationship between dairy and diabetes.
The Source of Compounds Matters
When it comes to weight loss, there is considerable debate about whether ‘a calorie is a calorie’. Some people argue that yes, this is true, while others feel that specific types of diets tend to be more effective (like a low carb diet).
Regardless of the answer to that debate, the authors of this paper point out that different compounds vary considerably in their impacts within the body. This includes impacts on protein synthesis, fat oxidation and metabolism.
This pattern is extremely relevant when it comes to dairy and diabetes, as it suggests that protein sourced from dairy (like whey protein) could easily have different impacts on the body, including varying impacts on sugar metabolism.
At the same time, there are other variations based on the source of nutrients.
For example, many foods also contain bioactive compounds, which may interact with one another. In many cases, this means that we do not fully know why or how some foods have the effects that they do.
Two examples of this are coffee and chocolate. Both of these are originally derived from plants and they include a large number of bioactive compounds, many of which we do not fully understand. As such, we know that both coffee and chocolate do offer health benefits but it is not always possible to isolate the specific compounds connected to some benefits.
The authors of this particular paper argue that a similar pattern is present when it comes to protein. Different types of protein can vary in their chemical structure and in the amino acids that the protein contains.
This is why proteins are often ranked in terms of quality, with animal-based protein often viewed as being superior. However, such a classification may be too simple, especially as there are many variations between different animal-based proteins and different plant-based proteins.
For example, the authors note that distinctions between animal-based protein are partly based on the animal and also partly based on the specific source (such as protein from milk or from meat).
The Connection Between Dairy and Diabetes
With all the variation between different types of protein – it’s easy to see how some proteins could be more relevant for diabetes than others.
Likewise, there is research out that supports dairy and diabetes being related, suggesting that dairy-based protein can be relevant in diabetes control (4). This pattern is partly connected to the protein itself and also to other compounds within dairy, such as calcium and a range of other nutrients (5).
This relationship suggests that dairy-derived proteins (like whey powder) may be relevant to diabetes, along with actually eating dairy products.
However, because of the extra compounds in dairy, more benefits may be derived from obtaining protein in this way.
As part of this study, the authors looked into the outcomes of different research. They specifically focused on the impacts that different types of food had on type 2 diabetes risk and on markers of glucose regulation.
Through these studies, the authors did find some evidence that protein from dairy could help with glucose control and with diabetes risk. In particular, research consistently showed that a higher intake of dairy foods resulted in improved glucose response and/or reduced type 2 diabetes risk. This effect was more significant than what is typically found in other protein sources.
However, this outcome was complicated by differences in protein sources and protein types, along with the composition of food and meals – and the authors argued that significantly more research is needed.
Implications and Future Research Directions
From their examination of the evidence, the authors did conclude that dietary protein can be very relevant for decreasing diabetes risk and managing blood sugar levels, particularly in the case of dairy-based protein.
Nevertheless, this is also an area where much more research is needed.
In particular, the authors called for the use of long-term randomized controlled trials to test the effects of different types of protein.
Such research would offer significantly more insight into the precise connection between dairy and diabetes, as well as the overall role that protein source plays.
With enough research, it may even be possible to identify the best sources of protein for people with diabetes, along with how much should be consumed and when.
As of now, that information doesn’t exist.
But, what we do know is that protein is extremely relevant for diabetes prevention and management. That alone provides strong support for high protein diets, which can also help with weight loss, as this diet type keeps you feeling full.
Additionally, the research here supports the idea that dairy truly is good for health and may offer more benefits than most of us assume.
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The idea that dairy and diabetes are connected is an interesting one but the evidence is there. What do you think? Is the evidence good enough to get you eating more dairy or would you need more proof?