April 16, 2024
Can Eating Yogurt Really Reduce Your Risk of Diabetes?
Can Eating Yogurt Really Reduce Your Risk of Diabetes?

Could a simple refrigerator staple help prevent type 2 diabetes? Food manufacturers can now claim that yogurt reduces the risk of this chronic disease, according to a new ruling from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

As of March 1, 2024, the FDA announced that it did not object to the use of certain qualified health claims around yogurt consumption and reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, as long as they are worded in ways that would not mislead consumers. The two claims now allowed include: 

  • “Eating yogurt regularly, at least 2 cups (3 servings) per week, may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. FDA has concluded that there is limited information supporting this claim.”
  • “Eating yogurt regularly, at least 2 cups (3 servings) per week, may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes according to limited scientific evidence.”

But what is a “qualified” health claim, exactly?

“The FDA considers a qualified health claim to be a claim that is supported by scientific evidence but does not achieve the ‘significant scientific agreement’ (SSA) standard,” registered dietitian and diabetes educator Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDCES, author of 2 Day Diabetes Diet, told Health

Whereas the SSA standard requires well-designed studies and consensus among scientists about a food’s impact on health, a qualified health claim does not require this kind of extensive support. For this reason, the FDA mandates specific wording around these claims. 

Considering these semantics, some have concerns that this new ruling could lead consumers to erroneously believe that yogurt is a magic bullet for type 2 diabetes.

”It might be misleading for consumers to think that yogurt could be a ‘quick fix’ for their blood sugar,” Caroline Thomason, RD, CDCES, a dietitian and diabetes educator in private practice in Washington, DC, told Health. This definitely isn’t the case, as not all yogurts are ideal for maintaining steady blood glucose, she said. Still, some research on yogurt and type 2 diabetes is promising. 

Below, we’re taking a look at whether a serving of yogurt every other day really could keep diabetes at bay.

person eating yogurt, granola, berries for breakfast

How the Qualified Health Claim Came About

The approval of the claims around yogurt and diabetes is a development years in the making.

Back in 2018, Danone North America (whose subsidiaries included Dannon, Activia, and Silk yogurts) submitted a petition to the FDA seeking approval to market their products as reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes risk.

The petition highlighted yogurt’s evidence-based links to lower type 2 diabetes incidence. It also emphasized that some research has associated yogurt as a whole food (rather than merely its individual nutrients) with lower type 2 diabetes risk.

Over the next several years, the FDA considered this evidence, ultimately concluding that “some credible evidence” supports an inverse relationship between yogurt intake and diabetes risk (though they noted that “evidence is limited.”) Thus, a qualified health claim was born.  

Does Eating Yogurt Really Prevent Type 2 Diabetes?

Yogurt has long been known as a healthy food for its high content of probiotics and protein. It’s possible that these nutrients could translate to reduced type 2 diabetes risk.

“As a source of protein, yogurt helps regulate blood sugar and may help regulate hunger cues later in the day, especially if consumed at breakfast,” said Thomason.

Probiotics, on the other hand, could be a therapeutic treatment for type 2 diabetes for their ability to reduce inflammation, according to 2023 research.

As pointed out by Danone, several studies have also looked at yogurt’s whole-food effects on type 2 diabetes.

A 2022 review in The Journal of Dairy Science, for example, found that most cohort studies revealed fermented dairy products had protective effects against diabetes development. Among foods that protected against the disease, yogurt was the most consistent. And a 2017 study in the Journal of Nutrition concluded that, in the context of a broader healthy diet, yogurt could reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes in healthy and older adults with high cardiovascular risk.

On the other hand, not all research is quite so impressive. A 2019 meta-analysis in Nutrients found that probiotic yogurt had no effects on fasting blood glucose, fasting insulin, or insulin resistance. And some yogurts could even be detrimental for people with (or at risk of) type 2 diabetes, Palinski-Wade said. “Many yogurts on the market are sweetened with large amounts of added sugar, which can have a negative impact on blood sugar.”

Making a Healthy Yogurt Choice

To make a smart choice for your blood sugar, it’s best not to grab just any yogurt off the shelf.

“When it comes to benefiting blood sugar and diabetes, unsweetened yogurt with live active cultures (probiotics) may offer the greatest benefits,” Palinski-Wade recommended. She encouraged looking for high-protein yogurt (like plain Greek yogurt) to balance blood sugar and regulate appetite.

If you’re really hankering for flavor, though, you’re not without options. “You can look for flavored options that have no added sugar or sugar-free varieties,” Thomason suggested. “While these are often sweetened with artificial sweeteners or ingredients like Stevia, they won’t raise your blood sugar by contributing to added sugar in your day.”

How to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes With Other Diet Choices 

Yogurt may have benefits for blood sugar, but it’s far from the only food that could help prevent type 2 diabetes. According to Palinski-Wade, foods like berries, beanslentils, almonds, and avocados all steady glucose levels.

In general, an anti-inflammatory diet like the Mediterranean or DASH diet might keep blood sugar in check, as well. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Mediterranean-style eating has benefits like improved hemoglobin A1C and cholesterol levels.

Of course, if you enjoy yogurt, feel free to include it as a diabetes-friendly snack, provided it’s low in sugar and high in protein. “If you already have diabetes,” said Thomason, “yogurt can help you manage your blood sugar and provide a healthy dose of protein and gut-promoting probiotics to boot.”

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