The #1 Best Yogurt for Diabetes, Says Dietitian
Yogurt is a great breakfast or snack option. It's versatile and easy to eat at home or on the go. For people with diabetes, yogurt can be a good addition to your diet. Research shows that yogurt may benefit those with diabetes as well as prevent those without the disease from developing it thanks to the fermented dairy product's concentration of probiotics, or live active cultures. Studies show that probiotic-rich yogurt can benefit blood glucose levels in patients with diabetes, and it may play a role in reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by improving glucose metabolism.
"[Live, active] cultures, aka probiotics, are termed healthy bacteria that help to keep our body healthy and working well," shares Amy Kimberlain, RDN, CDCES, a registered dietitian and Academy Media Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Most yogurt contains live, active bacteria cultures and would indicate so on the label. Some of the alternative 'milk' yogurts may not, so it's important to check and not consider it a given."
Beyond its probiotic benefits, "yogurt is also considered to be a good source of protein, calcium, and potassium," says Kimberlain.
Although yogurt can provide many benefits, how do you know which yogurt is the right choice, and which ones you should stay away from if you have diabetes? According to Kimberlain, she believes that the best yogurt for diabetes is a low-fat or fat-free yogurt with minimum added sugar or artificial sweeteners and more protein.
How to shop for the best yogurt for diabetes
This recommendation seems like a lot to keep track of, so how do you know what type of yogurt to pick up?
"When it comes to yogurt, shopping at the grocery store can be quite confusing," explains Kimberlain. It's one of those foods that is thought to be 'healthy,' yet when you take a closer look, some brands can be quite high in sugar and considered almost like dessert.
To streamline your grocery shopping experience, heed Kimberlain's advice:
Opt for low-fat or fat-free.
When deciding on choosing a yogurt that's either fat-free, low-fat, or whole milk, Kimberlain says that general guidelines from the American Heart Association, as well as the Dietary Guidelines, recommend choosing low-fat or fat-free yogurt.
"People with diabetes have two times the risk for heart disease," says Kimberlain. "This is important in helping to cut back on their total saturated fat for the day."
Keep added sugar to a minimum.
If you're stuck between a plain yogurt or a flavored one, is it possible to choose a yogurt that won't affect your diabetes? The answer is yes, but only if the flavor contains no added sugar.
"On the nutrition labels, you can now see the line for 'added sugar,'" explains Kimberlain. "Yogurt has natural sugar in the lactose that it contains. However, now with this recent addition, we can see how much added sugar different brands are using." For added sugar, the recommendation is 6 teaspoons (24g)/day for women and 9 teaspoons (36g)/day for men.
When in doubt, go for plain and sweeten naturally with fruit or spices.
Kimberlain suggests that the goal is to cut back on added sugar everywhere, so the best option is plain yogurt. Then, you have the opportunity to add your own fruit in order to "naturally sweeten" the yogurt.
"For people with diabetes, this is a great combination of protein (in the yogurt) and carbohydrate from the fruit," says Kimberlain. "You can additionally add more flavor by adding different spices/flavorings – vanilla extract, cinnamon, cardamom."
Skip the artificial sweeteners.
Artificial sweeteners can also take a toll on diabetes, according to Kimberlain.
"Similar to added sugar, my recommendation is to aim to reduce your total intake when it comes to artificial sweeteners," she suggests. "While it might seem of benefit to using artificial sweeteners because the yogurt will have less total carbs (due to sweetening from the artificial sweetener), I recommend using plain and adding in fruit for natural sweetness. The fruit also has fiber which is of benefit for people with diabetes as well. Fiber helps stabilize blood sugar levels, all the while keeping us fuller longer!"
Look for high-protein yogurts, like Greek yogurt.
Furthermore, Kimberlain suggests that Greek yogurt is both thicker and creamier than regular yogurt. Additionally, it has more protein than regular yogurt.
"For people with diabetes, having a little more protein could be of benefit in managing blood sugar levels, as the aim is to balance carbs, protein, and fats," says Kimberlain. "And at times, with different meal combos, protein, specifically at breakfast and/or a snack, may be lacking. Therefore, this extra protein could be of benefit."
You can try fortified plant-based yogurts.
If you're unable to consume dairy, you can still reap benefits through plant-based options.
"Ideally, you're looking for one that has the calcium and vitamin D fortification," explains Kimberlain. "And if you're curious which one has the most similar properties to a dairy-based yogurt, that would be soy. But, check for fortification. And, the protein may be of importance when aiming to help balance meals."