It’s a common question to ask when you are changing to a low-carb lifestyle. Are there any carbs in dairy products?

Dairy is popular throughout the world. Hands up if you love cheese! Or butter for that matter. Me too! Great, you’ll love to know that there are lots of low-carb dairy options available.

There is a lot of conflicting information on the dietary guidelines from multiple sources about eating full-fat dairy. There are even different opinions from the same source, for example, The Heart Foundation guidelines. They say “eat full-fat dairy and no limit on eggs”. They also say “if you have cholesterol, eat low-fat flavoured milk”. Really?

No wonder people are confused. Let’s break down the major dairy items and see if they are ok to eat on a low-carb diet.

low carb diary foods

What is Dairy?

Dairy is simply food and drinks that are made from mammals’ milk. We generally associate it with animals such as cows, sheep, goats and buffalo.

Dairy foods include anything primarily based on animal milk including butter, yoghurt, cream and cheese.


low carb dairy milk

One of the most popular types of dairy products is milk. It’s the first thing you will drink if your mother was able to breastfeed. Fat in breast milk provides all the nutrients a baby needs.

Milk contains all three macronutrients; protein, fat and carbohydrates.

Protein: milk is a great source of quality protein with about 3.3 grams per 100ml. The protein is made up of casein (80%) and whey (20%). More on why that is important in a minute.

Fat: the fat content of milk is mainly saturated fats at 70%. The remainder is made up of 25% monounsaturated fat, 2.5% polyunsaturated fat, and 2.5 trans fat.

Carbs: there is a naturally occurring sugar in milk called lactose. Also called ‘milk sugar’ it makes up around 4.7g of carbs in dairy products. Anything above this is added sugar.

Milk is also an excellent source of, vitamin B12, calcium, riboflavin, iodine, and other micronutrients.

Is Milk Low Carb?

Milk is on the higher end of the carb scale in the dairy family. The lactose in milk is a disaccharide. When consumed, milk breaks down into two types of sugar – galactose and glucose. The glucose component absorbs into your bloodstream which raises your blood sugar levels.

This is nothing to be concerned about if you are moderately low carb and don’t drink much milk. But it may impact your carb count quickly if you are keto or trying to lose weight.

What’s the Difference Between Casein and Whey?

Casein and whey are the two types of protein found in cow’s milk. Casein is 80% and whey is 20%. Both are by-products of cheese production.

Dairy is a good source of high-quality protein. It contains all the essential amino acids that cannot be made by your body.

Protein helps you feel full. It’s very hard to overeat protein, unlike carbs. The highest sources of protein in dairy are parmesan and Greek yoghurt.


low carb dairy cream

Cream is made by skimming the fat off the top of fresh unpasteurised milk as it rises to the top during the milking process. As such, cream has very little carbohydrate, so it has minimal to no effect on insulin levels.

Cream has a higher fat content and is lower in carbs. This means it’s great for a low-carb lifestyle, especially if you are keto.

It’s an easy switch to cream in your coffee instead of milk to keep your carb count down.

Why is Cream Low Carb But Not Milk?

Milk contains lactose (remember the milk sugar). That means it’s higher in carbs.

Because cream is skimmed off the milk (where the lactose remains), it is higher in fat and lower in carbs.

Keto is all about prioritising fats and reducing carbs, and since cream is the fat that rises to the top during the milking process, cream has a higher fat, lower-carb ratio and is preferable to milk for keto.


low carb dairy yoghurt

Choosing the right yoghurt doesn’t have to be difficult even though there are so many varieties to choose from.

Yoghurt is essentially cultured milk. It’s made by adding bacteria to milk which converts lactose to lactic acid. Therefore, naturally reduces the number of carbs compared to milk.

Natural Greek yoghurt is your best bet for low-carb. And plain full-fat natural yoghurt is the next best option.

It can take some getting used to switching to natural yoghurt if you have always eaten fruit-flavoured yoghurt because it’s not as sweet. However, if you add your own berries, you can keep it low carb and still have flavour. Plus, it will keep you fuller for longer because of the fat content.

The one thing to remember is to avoid flavoured yoghurts or anything with fruit in them. They are all very high in added sugar. Check the label and anything that is higher than 4-6g (per100g) of carbs has added sugar and flavours.


low carb dairy butter

Butter is made by churning cream until it becomes semi-solid. It is almost purely fat with some milk proteins, and contains trace levels of lactose (sugar) and whey (protein).

Because butter has almost no sugar or protein it will not elevate your blood sugar.

Butter can be heated to 150ºC (302F) which means it has a low smoke point. It should only be cooked at lower temperatures because it burns easily.


low carb dairy ghee

Ghee is made by removing milk solids from butter to create butterfat. It has next to no lactose and casein since the protein has been removed.⁠

A great option for cooking, Ghee can be heated at high temperatures with a smoke point 250ºC (482F). Therefore, it is suitable for high temperature cooking and will not burn. Coconut oil and ghee are favourite cooking oils for low carb and keto people.

For those very sensitive to lactose and/or casein they can usually tolerate ghee!


low carb dairy cheese

Cheese is a fermented dairy product. It is made by curdling milk. A starter culture of bacteria is added to convert the lactose (sugar) into lactic acid. Most kinds of cheese are low carb because this breakdown of lactose naturally removes the sugar.

How it works: The curds are separated (coagulated proteins in the milk) from whey (the watery portion left over once the curds have formed). A lot of the sugars in the milk remain and are poured off with the whey.

Another reason cheese is lower in carbs is fermentation. As cheeses age, microorganisms consume the remaining sugars. This gives aged cheeses a sharper, more pungent flavour. Old cheeses like very sharp cheddars and Parmesan have essentially no carbs in them because all the sugars have been converted.

Butter and cheese do not contain carbs

Cheese is also made from the fatty, heavy top layer of the milk with the lactose being left behind. This process makes cheese a great low-carb food option.

Cheese is also a great source of protein and calcium.

The fat content varies between cheese varieties, and there are so many to choose from.


low carb dairy kefir

Kefir is a fermented product made by combining milk and bacterial cultures and left in a warm location to ferment. Lactic acid breaks down the lactose in the milk so it can be enjoyed by people who are lactose-intolerant.

Once fermented, the kefir becomes thick and tastes quite sour. Manufactured kefir drinks have become popular over recent years due to their health benefit claims around gut health. However, like many mass-produced commercial products, the benefits are often outweighed by the added ingredients including sugar and the good bacteria potentially not surviving on the shelf.

Can Dairy Raise Insulin Levels?

Dairy products high in lactose can raise insulin levels. As discussed, lactose is a naturally-occurring sugar that breaks down into glucose in the body. Too much will spike your blood sugar.

Some dairy can raise your insulin because of their protein content. High protein dairy such as cheese can have this effect. The amino acids that come from protein during digestion are absorbed into your bloodstream. So, like carbs that convert to sugar, this process will also raise your insulin levels. However, the elevation will be far less than when you eat carbs.

Did you know?

There is only one teaspoon of sugar in the bloodstream.
When you eat it rises to two?

Which Dairy Products are Keto?

Cheese, Greek yoghurt, cream, butter are your best options for keto as they are the lowest carb dairy options.

Carbs in Dairy – Breakdown of All Dairy

Listed below are the most common types of dairy products that you would find in a store.

It’s not an exhaustive list, especially for cheeses, but you will get the idea.

Also, the carb count will vary by product. Knowing how to read food labels will help you.

All values are net carbs, calculated by total carbs – fibre = net carbs

Carb calculations are per 100g except for milk which is 250ml for a typical serving size.

Low Carb Dairy (per 100g)

Butter – 0
Ghee (clarified butter) – 0
Soft cheese
– Brie – 0.5g
– Camembert – 0.5g
Semi-soft cheese
– Swiss – 0.4g
– Havarti – 1g
– Edam – 1.4g
– Haloumi – 2g
– Blue cheese – 2g
– Gouda – 2.2g
– Mozzarella – 2.5g
Hard cheese
– Pecorino – 0.2g
– Gruyere – 0.4g
– Colby – 2.6g
– Parmigiano – 3g
– Cheddar – 3.4g
Plain Greek yoghurt – 3g
Heavy (pouring) cream – 3g
Cream cheese – 3g
Quark (soft cheese) – 3g
Cottage cheese – 4g
Feta cheese – 4g
Sour cream – 4g
Light cream – 4g

High Carb Dairy

Half and half (whole milk & heavy cream) – 5g
Whole-milk plain yoghurt – 5g
Ricotta cheese – 7g
Buttermilk (per cup) – 12g
Milk (per cup) – 12g
Flavoured yoghurt – 20g

So, as you can see there are still plenty of dairy options to choose from when eating low carb or going keto.

Check out all our low-carb visual guides here.

low carb dairy guide

All carb calculations are from cronometer, a nutrition tracking application you can get access to for free.  

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