Cheese is a beloved and time-honoured delicacy, with its diverse varieties and savoury taste, making it a key component of many cuisines. From soft brie to tangy cheddar, this delightful treat can bring an extra flavour to any meal.
On the other hand, due to its high-fat content, the question of whether cheese is safe to eat for those with diabetes has been a subject of contention among specialists.
While some advocate that people with diabetes can consume certain kinds in limited amounts, others suggest abstaining from cheese entirely.
When it comes to living with diabetes, a balanced diet is essential. Cheese and other dairy products can be a part of this diet, but only if eaten in moderation.
Eating cheese in moderation and as part of a balanced diet can make it a nutritious part of your meal plan.
Types of Cheese
Cheese is a versatile food that comes in many different varieties, each with its unique flavour, texture, and nutritional profile. Some of the most common types of cheese include:
Cheddar is a type of hard cheese typically made from cow’s milk. It contains beneficial minerals and vitamins such as B, A, and calcium and has a distinctive off-white hue.
While cheddar is a good choice for people with diabetes, avoiding varieties containing artificial flavourings and colours is essential.
Swiss cheese is a yellow, semi-hard cheese made from pasteurised cow’s milk. These cheeses are not overly salty or sharp in flavour.
Feta cheese is an excellent choice for those looking to lose weight, as it is a low-calorie cheese. It is made from fermented sheep or goat milk (or a combination of both).
In addition, it is one of the lowest-salt cheeses available, making it suitable for people on low-sodium diets.
Mozzarella, the most widely consumed cheese, is a crucial ingredient in many Italian dishes.
This cheese is typically crafted from buffalo milk and is a healthier option due to its probiotic properties, such as the bacteria Lactobacillus casei and Lactobacillus fermentum.
The Relationship Between Cheese and Blood Sugar Levels
It is essential for those with diabetes to maintain a healthy and balanced diet. Contrary to popular belief, cheese, which is high in fat and calories, can be included in the diet of people with diabetes in moderation. Recent research has demonstrated that eating cheese in small amounts can be beneficial for diabetes management.
Cheese contains quite a bit of fat, but it also has a low amount of carbohydrates, so eating it has little effect on one’s blood sugar. A study has found that cheese may even reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. That is because of the calcium and vitamin D in cheese, which can help regulate insulin levels.
Eating raw cheese is one of the best ways for people with diabetes to enjoy cheese. This form of cheese is full of natural and beneficial enzymes found in milk, and organic cheese contains 62% more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids than regular dairy products.
Glycemic Index of Cheese
The glycemic index (GI) works as a tool to measure how quickly food raises your blood sugar levels.
Foods with a high GI are rapidly absorbed and cause a sudden, significant increase in blood sugar levels. On the other hand, foods with a low GI get absorbed more slowly and cause a slower, more gradual rise in blood sugar levels.
Cheese has a relatively low glycemic index, with most cheese having a GI value of less than 50. For example, the GI of cheese like mozzarella and pressed cottage cheese equals 0.
It means that consuming cheese is unlikely to cause any spike in blood sugar levels. However, it is crucial to keep in mind that the glycemic index of cheese can vary depending on the type of cheese and the preparation. Additionally, consuming cheese in combination with other high-GI foods can increase the overall glycemic effect of a meal.
The Benefits of Cheese for Diabetes
Consuming cheese may help to lower blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity for several reasons:
Protein and Fat Content
Cheese is high in protein and fat, which can slow down carbohydrate absorption and help keep blood sugar levels stable.
Cheese is a good source of calcium, which helps to regulate blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity.
Some types of cheese, such as fermented ones, contain probiotics. These are beneficial bacteria that can help to improve gut health and insulin sensitivity.
Low Glycemic Index
As mentioned earlier, cheese has a relatively low glycemic index. It means that consuming cheese is unlikely to cause a rapid or significant spike in blood sugar levels.
Side Effects of Cheese On Diabetics
If you do not eat cheese in the right portion size, it can be detrimental for people with diabetes. Here are some risks and potential side effects of consuming cheese:
Increased Risk of Weight Gain
Cheese is high in fat and calories, which can contribute to weight gain if consumed in excess. In addition, it can be particularly problematic for people with diabetes, as being overweight or obese make it more challenging to manage blood sugar levels.
Increased Risk of Heart Disease
Cheese is also high in saturated fat, which can contribute to heart disease. In addition, people with diabetes are already at an increased risk of heart disease, so consuming too much cheese may further increase this risk.
Some people with diabetes may also be lactose intolerant, which means they have difficulty digesting the sugar in milk products like cheese. Consuming too much cheese can cause digestive discomfort, gas, bloating, and diarrhoea.
What are the Best Cheese Varieties for Diabetes?
While cheese can be part of a balanced diet, not all cheeses are created equal. Some varieties have high salt content. Some contain more calories per serving, while others are chock full of artificial flavourings and colours.
It is important to note that the effects of cheese on blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity depend on the individual and the type of cheese consumed.
Additionally, consuming cheese with other high-carb foods can impact blood sugar levels. You can talk to a HealthifyMe nutritionist for personalised advice regarding including cheese in your diet.
Here are some healthiest cheese options for people with diabetes:
It is easier to digest than other cheeses. Hence, goat cheese is a good dairy substitute for people with lactose intolerance. As per USDA, the hard type of goat cheese contains 128 calories and 8.65 grams of protein per ounce.
Cottage cheese is a great low-calorie cheese option with reasonable amounts of protein and calcium. According to USDA, 100 grams of cottage cheese contains only 72 calories but offers over 12 grams of protein.
Since people with diabetes are more prone to hypertension, they must limit their salt intake. Cottage cheese has the lowest salt content of over 600 varieties of cheese.
As per USDA, one wedge of feta cheese contains 101 calories and 5.4 g of protein. In addition, because feta cheese is fermented, it also contains probiotics that can help improve gut health and digestion.
Cheddar cheese is popular primarily because of its versatility and range of flavour profiles. While it contains B vitamins, vitamin A, and calcium, you should eat cheddar cheese in moderation. As per USDA, one slice of low-fat cheddar cheese contains 48.4 calories and 6.83 g of protein.
The HealthifyMe Note
Cheese seems to have a paradoxical effect on people who have diabetes. While cheese can be a good source of protein and calcium, it is also high in fat and calories, contributing to weight gain and increasing the risk of heart disease in people with diabetes. Additionally, consuming too much cheese can worsen digestive discomfort. However, cheese has a low glycemic index, and consuming it in moderate portions can be considered part of a healthy diet for diabetics.
The crucial step is choosing authentic quality cheese from high-grade milk sources such as cows, goats, and sheep. Goat and sheep cheeses have more heart-healthy fats than cheeses made with cow milk. Also, avoid using processed cheese that come in packets like sliced or cube cheese because it contains emulsifiers, phosphates, and hydrogenated oils, among other things. These are not good for diabetes.
Regarding dietary management for diabetes, it is vital to be conscious of all food groups you consume.
Dairy products, particularly cheese, have been a source of uncertainty. However, there is no need for concern, assuming you consume cheese in moderation and incorporate them into a well-rounded meal plan.
It is important to remember that consuming too much cheese can contribute to weight gain and increase the risk of heart disease in people with diabetes.
In addition, watch out for processed cheese that may contain additional ingredients that can negatively affect blood sugar levels.
It is always best to consult your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian for personalised advice regarding ways to include cheese in your diet.
The Research Sources
1. Guo J, Givens DI, Astrup A, Bakker SJL, Goossens GH, Kratz M, Marette A, Pijl H, Soedamah-Muthu SS. The Impact of Dairy Products in the Development of Type 2 Diabetes: Where Does the Evidence Stand in 2019? Adv Nutr. 2019 Nov 1;10(6):1066-1075. Doi: 10.1093/advances/nmz050. PMID: 31124561; PMCID: PMC6855942.
2. The amount and type of dairy product intake and incident type 2 diabetes: results from the EPIC-InterAct Study, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 96, Issue 2, August 2012, Pages 382–390
3. Data by the US Department of Agriculture. Data Type: SR Legacy | Food Category: Dairy and Egg Products | FDC ID: 1156
4, Data by the US Department of Agriculture. Data Type: SR Legacy | Food Category: Dairy and Egg Products | FDC ID: 173417
5. Data by the US Department of Agriculture. Data Type: SR Legacy | Food Category: Dairy and Egg Products | FDC ID: 173420
6. Data by the US Department of Agriculture. Data Type: SR Legacy | Food Category: Dairy and Egg Products | FDC ID: 173439