A Yogurt a Day May Keep Diabetes at Bay

Eating a low-fat plain yogurt, instead of salty snacks or sugary drinks, may help reduce your risk of diabetes by almost 50%.

In addition to eating more fruits and vegetables, consuming low-fat plain yogurt, in lieu of salty snacks or sugary drinks, may help prevent the onset of Type 2 diabetes, according to the result of a study by researchers at The University of Cambridge, England.

Consumers should be wary of the content of their yogurt products, however. Many yogurt products today contain added sugars for flavoring. Others contain sugary granola or even crushed cookies and candies. This particular study looked at reduced-fat plain yogurt (<3.9% fat) and cheese, which were available in England.

“Although we did not specifically examine it in this study, a reasonable assumption would be that the more traditional style yogurts without added sugar are a good choice,” noted the lead investigator Nita Forouhi, MD. Dr Nita Forouhi is the Group Leader of the nutritional epidemiology program at the Medical Research Council, Epidemiology Unit in Cambridge.

Study Design

The study details a careful analysis of data gleaned from the EPIC-Norfolk study that looked at the 7-day food diaries of well over 25,000 people based in England. The EPIC, or the European Prospective Investigation of Cancer (EPIC), is a large multi-center study looking at the connection between diet and cancer. The study was published in the journal Diabetologia, the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes.

The investigators randomly selected 4,000 patients and 892 patients who developed diabetes during the 11-year study timeframe. This gave researchers the opportunity to examine the types of dairy diets that led to less diabetic cases. The investigators found that those who consumed low-fat yogurt and certain other low-fat dairy products more frequently had a 24% decreased chance of developing diabetes. When they looked at diets that primarily ate low-fat yogurt the figure rose even higher to 28%.

Eating 4 to 5 standard potions, around 125 grams, can be very beneficial, noted Dr. Forouhi. Replacing a bag of chips with low-fat yogurt could reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes by as much as 47%, the researchers wrote.

While the study’s results do not present conclusive evidence about low-fat yogurt’s possible benefit, researchers like Dr. Forouhi feel that this is a hopeful step in finding new evidence for the benefits of healthier foods. 

“At a time when other research has shown that certain foods raise health risks, such as regularly consuming sugary drinks or higher amounts of red and processed meat, it is reassuring to have messages about other foods like yogurt and low-fat fermented dairy products, that could be good for our health when consumed within overall healthy diets,” Dr. Forouhi said.

Low-fat yogurt has been known as a source for important nutrients and health benefits, such as high-quality proteins, fatty acids, probiotic bacteria. vitamins A, D, and special types of vitamin K, and minerals like calcium, magnesium, and potassium. This new research only makes the benefits more apparent.

Low-Fat Cheese Good Too

Low-fat yogurt isn’t the only source for beneficial dairy intake, however. Low-fat cottage cheese and fromage frais, which is much like cream cheese but with less fat content, are also healthier foods to eat instead of salty snacks and sugary desserts.

Dr. Forouhi noted that during the period of time when the data was compiled, flavored yogurts and versions with addable treats were not typically available to UK consumers.

The yogurts used in the study were not all necessarily products with low-fat products labeling, either. The researchers, instead, grouped all yogurts that had a total fat content that was less than 3.9% under a “low-fat yogurt” category, which is the standard amount of fat in whole milk found in the UK, Dr. Forouhi said.

"US dietary guidelines recommend the reduction of added sugar,” Dr. Forouhi said.  “People should watch out for added sugars in all foods and include such items in their diets as occasional treats rather than as daily habitual items.”

Dr. Forouhi noted that the research didn’t include the more sugary variations of flavored yogurts. “It would be good however to see a reduction in the level of added sugars in yogurt products as we know from other research that high amounts of added sugar can be harmful for health,” Dr. Forouhi said.

The study shouldn’t be taken as an excuse to eat more yogurt and exercise less. A healthier overall lifestyle, ultimately, is the best way to avoid being diagnosed with diabetes, she concluded.

Updated on: July 26, 2017