When the afternoon slump strikes and you’re searching for a quick fix to amp up your energy, you’re probably inclined to reach for a candy bar or caffeinated soda. And while those treats can certainly do the trick, they’re much more harmful than helpful -- unless, of course, you don’t mind an extra bit of jiggle around your middle. Rather than relying on these high-calorie habits, swap them for a beverage that’s just as effective at increasing blood sugar, but with a few extra nutritional perks.
Carbs and Sugar
Carbohydrates are the main culprit in blood sugar spikes. When compared to proteins and fats, carbs have a much more significant impact on your body’s glucose levels -- which is why they’re so important for maintaining energy. One 8-ounce serving of milk has about 12 to 15 grams of carbs, which is right on par with its fellow carb-containing foods. Nearly all starchy foods, vegetables, fruits and yogurt have roughly the same amount of carbohydrates per serving.
Watch the Load
Although you should count carbs, you can’t always count on them. A carb-filled food or beverage will certainly increase blood sugar -- that's just a scientific fact. But it’s the glycemic load that really determines the impact. Foods and beverages with similar carb counts are compared to determine which ones cause a quicker blood sugar spike; this determines the glycemic index. The GI then takes into consideration how many grams of carbs are found in one serving; this determines the glycemic load. The lower the glycemic load, the less impact on blood sugar and insulin levels. Since milk has a glycemic load of about 4 to 5, it will cause your blood sugar to increase, but it won't cause a rapid spike in glucose levels. A blood sugar spike is more common with apple juice, which has a glycemic load of 30.
Whole Milk vs. Skim Milk
As foods and liquids move through the body, the digestive system sorts through the mixture and plucks out various nutrients, sending them into the bloodstream to be used by the cells. Fatty foods make this job more challenging, since the slippery little molecules tend to get in the way and impede the process. So, drinking a cup of whole milk has a slightly different impact than drinking a cup of skim milk. The fat molecules in the whole milk elongate the process, so the sugar molecules don’t reach your bloodstream as quickly as they do with skim milk. Just as a thick layer of fat slows you down, the milk fat also slows the sugar down.
Although milk won’t cause your blood sugar to surge as much as a banana, it’s still quick enough to use in an emergency situation. In fact, the American Diabetes Association recommends gobbling or gulping down about 15 to 20 grams of carbs if your blood sugar gets too low -- a common concern for people with diabetes, although it can also occur if you’ve waited too long between meals. When your blood sugar drops, you might feel dizzy, shaky, confused and irritable. Stop the symptoms with a cup of skim milk, followed by a wholesome snack or meal within 30 minutes.
- University of Illinois Extension: Your Guide to Diet and Diabetes
- Harvard Health Publications: Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load for 100+ Foods
- UCSF Medical Center: Treating Low Blood Sugar
- Linus Pauling Institute: Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load
- American Diabetes Association: Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Glucose)
Krista Sheehan is a registered nurse and professional writer. She works in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and her previous nursing experience includes geriatrics, pulmonary disorders and home health care. Her professional writing works focus mainly on the subjects of physical health, fitness, nutrition and positive lifestyle changes.