An intriguing new study suggests that substituting low-fat yogurt once a day for a dessert or snack you’d normally eat—such as pretzels, cookies, or a slice of cake—can reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 47 percent. The research, published last week in the journal Diabetologia, examined the dietary habits, based on week-long food diaries, of 11,000 Europeans. Study authors monitored subjects’ eating habits for 11 years, and they determined that those who consumed the most low-fat yogurt had the lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, compared to those who consumed the least.
Likely the beneficial bacteria in the yogurt play some role, the researchers speculated, though they couldn’t prove that eating yogurt actually prevents Type 2 diabetes.
Here’s a big caveat to the study: The University of Cambridge researchers didn’t look at the content of added sugars in these yogurts. They might not have needed to since most European yogurts—especially those consumed when the food diaries were collected more than a decade ago—don’t have the same high sugar content as their American counterparts, such as those packaged with M&M’s and crushed Oreos. American yogurts, especially those marketed to kids like Danimals drinkables and Go-GURT, have increased their sugar content in recent years, according to NYU nutrition professor Marion Nestle.
Your challenge this week is to consider adding a serving of yogurt to your daily diet, but make sure the yogurt you’re adding is a health food, rather than a rich dessert.
It’s a bit tricky to determine how much of the sugar content listed in yogurt is actually in the form of added table sugar. Each 6-ounce serving of regular plain yogurt, like Dannon, contains 12 grams of natural sugar in the form of milk sugar or lactose. That can’t be avoided.
But every 4 grams of sugar on top of that is equivalent to a teaspoon of added sugar. If your favorite Dannon or Yoplait brand contains 20 grams or more of sugar for a 6-ounce serving, consider it a treat, not a healthful snack.
To make matters more confusing, Greek yogurt has about half the lactose content of regular yogurt because the liquid is strained in a process that increases the ratio of milk protein to lactose. That means a 6-ounce serving contains 6 grams of lactose, so the 13 grams of sugar listed in a 5.3 ounce serving of my favorite Chobani Vanilla yogurt means it contains 7 grams of added sugar— the amount in 1 1/2 Oreo cookies.
As I wrote last week, the Food and Drug Administration is planning to revamp food labels to hopefully make it easier to discern the sugar added to foods from amounts that occur naturally in fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. For now, we’re left to do a little math.