Diabetes mellitus, or diabetes, is a disease affecting the regulation of blood glucose (sugar) levels.
An organ called the pancreas creates the hormone insulin, which helps keep blood sugar levels in a healthy range.
With diabetes, the pancreas either doesn’t make enough insulin, or the body doesn’t respond to it well. Without proper insulin function, blood sugar levels rise and can lead to health problems if left untreated.
Diabetes is becoming more prevalent worldwide. As of 2015, 30.3 million people in the United States, or about 9.4 percent of the population, had diabetes. Unfortunately, more than 1 in 4 people with diabetes don’t know they have it. Having undiagnosed diabetes increases the risk of complications from lack of prompt treatment.
Many people also have prediabetes, a condition where blood sugars are slightly elevated but not high enough to be considered diabetes.
Having prediabetes is a significant risk factor for eventually developing type 2 diabetes. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that up to 30% of people with prediabetes will develop type 2 diabetes within five years of their prediabetes diagnosis.
One of the ways to help promote healthy blood sugar levels is through healthy lifestyle habits. Focusing on eating nutritious foods that are good for blood sugar is one of the most important aspects of treating both diabetes and prediabetes.
Yogurt is one one such food that has been touted for its ability to regulate blood sugar. Low in carbohydrate and high in protein, it promotes good energy levels and increases the feeling of satiety. But which is the best yogurt for diabetics? Keep reading to find out!
What makes yogurt a healthy option for diabetes?
There are many kinds of yogurt available, making it confusing when trying to make healthy choices.
Not all yogurt types are ideal for people with diabetes, so knowing what to look for when choosing a yogurt is essential. The yogurts that are a healthy option for people with diabetes are healthy for anyone regardless of whether or not they have blood sugar issues.
The single-most important thing to watch out for when choosing a yogurt is the added sugar content. There are two types of sugar: natural and added. Natural sugars are found naturally in foods such as fruit, milk, plain yogurt, and vegetables.
While it’s important to be mindful of total sugar intake, added sugars are associated with adverse health outcomes. Added sugar consumption has been associated with increased risk of heart disease, fatty liver disease, diabetes, heart disease, and even certain cancers.
Added sugars are prevalent in many processed foods, such as yogurt. It’s estimated that up to 74% of processed foods contain added sugar. Added sugar has many names, which can make it difficult to spot.
The new nutrition facts label now has a line for added sugars, making it easier to spot. Some labels still don’t contain a line for added sugars, so checking the nutrition facts ingredient label is important to determine if added sugars are present. Some of the names for added sugar include:
- Agave nectar
- Barbados sugar
- Barley malt
- Beet sugar
- Blackstrap molasses
- Brown rice syrup
- Brown sugar
- Buttered syrup
- Cane juice crystals
- Cane sugar
- Carob syrup
- Castor sugar
- Confectioner’s sugar
- Corn syrup
- Corn syrup solids
- Crystalline fructose
- Date sugar
- Demerara sugar
- Diastatic malt
- Ethyl maltol
- Evaporated cane juice
- Florida crystals
- Fruit juice
- Fruit juice concentrate
- Glucose solids
- Golden sugar
- Golden syrup
- Grape sugar
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Icing sugar
- Invert sugar
- Malt syrup
- Maple syrup
- Muscovado sugar
- Organic raw sugar
- Raw sugar
- Refiner’s syrup
- Rice syrup
- Sorghum syrup
- Turbinado sugar
- Yellow sugar
The American Heart Association recommends that women don’t consume more than 6 teaspoons (24 grams) of added sugar per day and men keep their added sugar intake below 9 teaspoons (36 grams) per day.
It’s best for people with diabetes to choose a yogurt with the least amount of added sugar in grams per serving. For instance, if one yogurt contains 9 grams of added sugars per 5.3 ounces container and another contains 4 grams for the same size, the latter would be preferred.
Plain, unsweetened yogurt is the gold standard for people with diabetes as it doesn’t contain added sugar. It does contain natural sugar from milk but isn’t sweetened and is rich in protein, so it is a healthy choice. Fruit can be added to plain yogurt to give it flavor or be used to make smoothies.
Yogurt is richer in protein than plain milk. Protein itself doesn’t raise blood sugar, and it helps promote a feeling of fullness after eating. When protein is consumed with carbohydrates (the nutrient with the most impact on blood sugar levels), it can help promote steady blood sugar levels and minimize blood sugar spikes.
Regular yogurt contains about 10 grams of protein per cup, which is an impressive amount for a snack. Greek yogurt and Icelandic yogurt are other styles of yogurt becoming more popular. These yogurts are strained so that less of the milk’s liquid part is included, and more of the protein-rich solids are preserved.
Plain greek yogurt has about twice as much protein as regular yogurt or 24 grams in one cup. This results in higher protein content and lower total carbohydrate count. This makes protein-rich Greek and Icelandic yogurts a great choice for people with diabetes.
Yogurt comes in varying levels of fat, from nonfat to full-fat. There is a bit of controversy when it comes to the effects fat has on health. The fat in yogurt is saturated fat, which has been considered unhealthy because it can raise bad cholesterol levels. Having high cholesterol can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, among many other factors.
Adding to the controversy, a recent study suggested no correlation between the intake of saturated fat and heart disease and overall mortality.
Consuming full-fat yogurt as a part of a diet rich in fiber and unsaturated fats is a reasonable approach; blaming one key nutrient for its impact on health isn’t an effective strategy.
In general, nonfat yogurt contains less than 0.5 grams of total fat per serving; low-fat yogurt contains 3 or fewer grams of total fat per serving, and whole milk yogurt contains more than 3 grams of fat per serving.
Type of milk used
Yogurt is made from fermented milk. The process of fermentation results in probiotics, or healthy bacteria, living in yogurt. These are also called “live and active cultures” on the probiotic yogurt container.
Standard yogurt is usually made with cow’s milk. There are other options for people wanting to avoid dairy, such as soy yogurt, coconut milk yogurt, and goat’s milk yogurt, to name a few.
It’s important to ensure that non-cow’s milk yogurt isn’t also high in added sugars since these options can be marketed as healthier options than cow’s milk yogurt.
Probiotics are known to have several potential health benefits, including: prevention of bowel diseases, strengthening the immune system, treating lactose intolerance and intestinal microbial imbalances, lowering cholesterol, fighting high blood pressure, alleviation of postmenopausal disorders, and reducing traveler’s diarrhea. Some studies suggest that probiotics may even improve glycemic control in people with diabetes.
Another highly debatable topic is the use of artificial sweeteners.
While the artificial sweeteners used in foods have been approved for safety by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there are some studies suggesting artificial sweeteners may have potential negative health outcomes, such as impaired glucose tolerance. Types of artificial sweetener most commonly used are:
- Saccharin (Sweet’N Low, Sugar Twin)
- Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal)
- Acesulfame potassium or Ace-K (Sweet One, Swiss Sweet, Sunett)
- Sucralose (Splenda)
Artificial sweeteners are much sweeter than sugar but don’t contain any calories. They are called artificial because they don’t occur in nature but are synthesized in a laboratory.
They also have a nonexistent to negligible impact on blood sugar levels, so they are often recommended to people with diabetes. They are usually found in foods labeled as “sugar-free” but can also be combined with regular sugar to reduce the overall sugar content.
There are also some “natural” sugar substitutes available. These are gaining popularity because they don’t contain sugar and occur naturally versus being artificial. Some more common “natural sugar substitutes” include:
- Monk Fruit extract
Bottom line: What to watch out for
- Added sugar (try to keep it as low as possible – zero grams is ideal!)
- Artificial sweeteners
- Fat content (consider a lower-fat yogurt if your diet is already high in saturated fat or if you are at high risk of heart disease)
- Add-ins and mix-ins – these are often high in added sugar
- Serving size – the nutrition facts are listed per serving, so if there are 4 grams of added sugar per cup and you have 1 ½ cups, that’s 6 grams of added sugar.
Other healthy snacks for people with diabetes
Healthy snacks are those that contain fiber, protein, healthy fat, or a small amount of saturated fat, as well as don’t contain added sugars. Some examples of healthy snacks for people with diabetes include:
- Nuts – rich in protein, healthy fat, and fiber – opt for salt-free or low-salt options
- Seeds – rich in protein, healthy fat, and fiber – opt for salt-free or low-salt options
- Fresh, frozen, or canned fruit in 100% juice – fresh or frozen with the skin and/or seeds is ideal because these are higher in fiber
- Non-starchy vegetables with hummus – rich in fiber
- Air-popped popcorn – rich in fiber
- Jerky – rich in protein and low in fat
- Cheese – rich in protein
- Low-sugar yogurt – rich in protein
- Fruit smoothies made without added sugar – rich in protein when made with yogurt and free of added sugar
- Hard-boiled eggs – rich in protein
- Cottage cheese (try adding fruit!) – rich in protein and fiber if fruit is added, especially berries
- Nut butters – rich in protein and heart-healthy fat – try pairing with apple slices or whole-grain bread
An important part of managing diabetes is making healthy food choices. While there is some debate about topics such as artificial sweeteners and fat content, it is generally recommended to include foods that are: rich in fiber, low in or free of added sugars, and rich in protein.
The combination of fiber, protein, and fat helps increase satiety (a feeling of fullness) without spiking your blood sugar level.
Yogurt is protein-rich and can be a very healthy snack. It’s best to choose plain yogurts because they are free of added sugar while still being protein-rich and filling. Greek and Icelandic yogurts are a great choice because they are even higher in protein than regular yogurt, which helps boost satiety.
Yogurt also contains probiotics, which are known to have several health benefits. Yogurt can be enjoyed on its own, with fruit such as berries and topped with nuts and used in smoothies, to name a few ideas. It’s recommended to avoid yogurts high in added sugar, which can cause blood sugar spikes.