Cheese and Diabetes: How Does it Affect Blood Sugar Levels?

The foods we eat can impact our blood sugar levels – some more than others. This article will explore the connection between cheese and diabetes.

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by
Chelsea Rae Bourgeois, MS, RD
— Signos
Health writer
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
April 23, 2024
July 16, 2023
— Updated:

Table of Contents

Who doesn’t love cheese? Its creamy, tangy, and sometimes nutty flavors make it a staple ingredient in many dishes. But if you’re living with diabetes, you might wonder if cheese can still have a place in your well-balanced diet. Fear not, cheese enthusiasts! There’s no need to swear off this dairy product just yet.

Cheese and diabetes can coexist without wrecking your blood glucose levels. This article will examine the relationship between cheese and the diabetic diet so that you can find the perfect balance between your love for cheese and your diabetic lifestyle.

Does Cheese Raise Blood Sugar Levels?

The glycemic index can be an insightful tool when designing a healthy diet or meal plan for managing type 2 diabetes. It ranks foods on a scale from 1 to 100 based on how quickly they can raise your blood sugar levels. So, where does cheese fall on this handy scale?

Since cheese contains little to no carbohydrates, it’s considered a low-glycemic index food. Unlike high-glycemic index foods that spike your glucose levels quickly, cheese causes a more slow and steady increase. Cheese may even help control your blood sugar levels when eaten in moderate portions.

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Benefits of Cheese for Diabetics

Cheese deserves all the hype for its delicious flavor and versatile cooking options. But did you know it also offers a wide range of health benefits? When eaten in moderation alongside other nutritious foods, cheese can provide our bodies with many essential and beneficial nutrients.

People living with diabetes may especially appreciate its benefits surrounding blood sugar management. Some of these health benefits include:

Supports Healthy Blood Sugar Levels 

Cheese is a protein-dense food, and protein is essential for many important bodily functions, including muscle growth, tissue repair, and immune health. And protein’s critical roles don’t stop there. Protein intake can help regulate blood sugars and prevent blood sugar spikes by slowing the absorption of carbohydrates.

Additionally, cheese is a good source of calcium and probiotics, which play a role in blood sugar management and insulin sensitivity. So, whether you live with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, cheese may be able to support your blood glucose goals. 

It’s Protein-Dense 

Cheese is typically high in protein, which can be a great way to balance out your carbohydrate intake and prevent blood sugar spikes. Including a good protein source in your snacks and meals forces your body to take longer to digest and burn the carbs you eat simultaneously. You may also feel fuller longer and be less likely to reach for foods that spike your blood sugar levels.

The amount of protein per serving may vary between cheese types. For example, one ounce of cheddar cheese contains seven grams of protein, while low-fat cottage cheese contains less than four grams of protein.1,2

May Decrease the Risk of Developing Type 2 Diabetes 

If you have been diagnosed with prediabetes, you may be eager to prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes. Cheese might be able to help, as current research points to an inverse relationship between cheese and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.3 Science has found that fatty acid biomarkers from dairy products like cheese and yogurt can be associated with a significantly lower incidence of type 2 diabetes.4

Can Cheese Be Bad for Diabetics? 

Even with its ever-growing list of health benefits, eating cheese in moderation is still important. After all, too much of a good thing isn’t always good. Overdoing cheese intake may present potential risk factors for those with diabetes.

Calorie-Dense and Rich in Fat  

Research has shown that diabetes increases the risk of developing heart disease.5 So, it’s extra important to keep your heart in mind when managing your type 2 diabetes.

Regarding heart health and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, studies have shown that dairy fat may not always be the best choice. Cheese tends to have a high-fat content, specifically saturated fats, which can increase LDL cholesterol.

And because cheese is a calorie-dense food, we must be mindful of our portion sizes. Any energy your body doesn’t use will be stored as fat, affecting your heart health and insulin resistance over time.

Allergies and Intolerances 

Unfortunately, not everyone can tolerate dairy. Some people are lactose-intolerant, and others are even allergic to it. If cheese doesn’t agree with your system, you might consider alternatives — like nuts — that offer similar nutrition benefits. You might also consider dairy-free cheese options. However, they typically contain less protein than your standard cheese types.

High in Sodium Content 

Comprehensive diabetes management also involves managing your blood pressure. Unfortunately, high blood pressure can lead to other cardiovascular problems. Since sodium can influence our blood pressure, people living with diabetes must be mindful of their salt intake.

Some cheeses contain more sodium than others. For example, feta cheese contains 323 milligrams of sodium per ounce, while mozzarella cheese contains just 138 milligrams per ounce.6,7 The latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that the average adult limit their sodium consumption to no more than 2,300 milligrams per day.8 Check nutrition labels and look for low-sodium options when possible.

4 of the Best Cheeses for People Living with Type 2 Diabetes

While cheese can be an excellent part of a well-balanced diet, not all cheeses are created equal. Some are high in sodium, some are high in calories, and others are full of artificial ingredients.

This list isn’t the end-all-be-all of healthy cheeses, but here are some of the best cheeses for people living with type 2 diabetes:

Goat Cheese 

Don’t knock it until you try it! Goat cheese can be an excellent choice for those managing type 2 diabetes. It contains 75 calories and five grams of protein per ounce, and it’s rich in other nutrients, such as vitamins A, B2, B12, and D.9

It tends to be easy to digest, despite its lactose content. Plus, it has a similar texture to cream cheese, making it a healthy alternative to high-fat cheese.

Mozzarella 

Mozzarella cheese tends to be a pretty popular choice these days. And good news — it offers plenty of health benefits! One ounce of mozzarella contains 85 calories and over six grams of protein.7 Plus, mozzarella contains many beneficial vitamins, minerals, and probiotics that can support our overall health.

Cottage Cheese 

If you’re looking for a low-calorie cheese, look no further! Cottage cheese contains just 20 calories per ounce.2 It’s often recommended for those pursuing weight loss due to its low-calorie nutrition profile. And sodium? Out of all the cheese varieties, cottage cheese tends to be one of the lowest in sodium.

Cheddar Cheese

Cheddar cheese is one of the most versatile cheeses used in various dishes and recipes. One ounce of cheddar contains approximately six grams of protein and 115 calories.1 Be mindful of yellow cheddar, which may contain artificial colors and flavorings. Natural cheddar is typically off-white.

What Kinds of Cheeses Should Diabetic People Avoid?

A healthy diet considers all aspects of food, including its nutritional, cultural, and social aspects. All foods can fit into a healthy diet if eaten in moderation. Still, some cheeses don’t serve our bodies as well as others — especially when managing diabetes.

Processed and low-fat cheeses can negatively impact diabetes management if you’re not careful. Low-fat cheese tends to be less fulfilling than high-fat cheeses, causing us to eat larger portions or add excess condiments to increase the meal’s flavor. Additionally, processed cheeses may contain unpredictable additives influencing their carb, protein, fat, and sodium content.

If you have concerns about what cheeses to include or avoid, consider meeting with a registered dietitian to address your unique dietary needs.

How to Eat Cheese If You Have Diabetes 

So, how can people living with diabetes eat cheese and manage their blood sugar levels? Fortunately, there isn’t just one healthy way to enjoy cheese. Cheese can be an excellent high-protein addition to many meals and snacks!

Consider pairing your favorite cheese with an array of fruits and vegetables to balance out the carbohydrate content in the fruit and prevent high blood sugar spikes. You can pair a low-sodium cheese with whole-grain crackers and avocado for an easy, refreshing snack. 

Need to increase the protein content of a dish, but need to keep it low-fat? Try adding ricotta cheese to the recipe when possible.

How Much Cheese Can Diabetics Eat?

Eating cheese in moderation is important, whether your health journey involves diabetes management or not. Recommendations for cheese consumption will vary depending on several factors, including height, weight, gender, and health goals.

Nutrition labels can help you understand the calorie, protein, fat, and sodium content in a serving of cheese. A registered dietitian can also help you to incorporate that information into your daily diet as you strive to meet your individualized nutrition needs.  

Learn More About Blood Sugar Health with Signos’ Expert Advice.

Our food choices can significantly impact our overall health, especially when managing our blood sugar levels. To effectively cope with and manage diabetes, it’s essential to be mindful of how foods impact glucose levels.

In addition to easily accessible expert advice, Signos can improve health by providing real-time data through continuous glucose monitoring. Learn more about nutrition and healthy habits on Signos’ blog, and find out if Signos is a good fit for you by taking a quick quiz!

Discover how to live well with diabetes with the help of Signos wearable CGM.

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References

  1. Fooddata Central Search Results: Cheese, Cheddar, Sharp, Sliced. FoodData Central. (2019, April 1). https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170899/nutrients 
  2. Fooddata Central Search Results: Cheese, Cottage, Low-Fat, 1% Milkfat. FoodData Central. (2019, April 1). https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/173417/nutrients
  3. Guo, J., Givens, D. I., Astrup, A., Bakker, S. J. L., Goossens, G. H., Kratz, M., Marette, A., Pijl, H., & Soedamah-Muthu, S. S. (2019). The Impact of Dairy Products in the Development of Type 2 Diabetes: Where Does the Evidence Stand in 2019?. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 10(6), 1066–1075. https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmz050
  4. Imamura, F., Fretts, A., Marklund, M., Ardisson Korat, A. V., Yang, W. S., Lankinen, M., Qureshi, W., Helmer, C., Chen, T. A., Wong, K., Bassett, J. K., Murphy, R., Tintle, N., Yu, C. I., Brouwer, I. A., Chien, K. L., Frazier-Wood, A. C., Del Gobbo, L. C., Djoussé, L., Geleijnse, J. M., … Fatty Acids and Outcomes Research Consortium (FORCE) (2018). Fatty acid biomarkers of dairy fat consumption and incidence of type 2 diabetes: A pooled analysis of prospective cohort studies. PLoS medicine, 15(10), e1002670. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1002670
  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2021, April). Diabetes, heart disease, & stroke - NIDDK. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/heart-disease-stroke 
  6. Fooddata Central Search Results: Cheese, Feta. FoodData Central. (2019, April 1). https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/173420/nutrients
  7. Fooddata Central Search Results: Cheese, Mozzarella, Whole Milk. FoodData Central. (2019, April 1). https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170845/nutrients
  8. USDA. (2020, December). Dietary Guidelines for Americans. DietaryGuidelines.gov. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2021-03/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf 
  9. Fooddata Central Search Results: Cheese, Goat, Soft Type. FoodData Central. (2019, April 1). https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/173435/nutrients

About the author

Chelsea Rae Bourgeois is a registered dietitian nutritionist with several years of experience working in the clinical setting. Once a track and field athlete on a competitive stage, she now finds joy in combining her passions as a health writer to help people embrace their wellness through nutrition and fitness.

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