Yogurt companies can now claim they lower Type 2 diabetes risk, a dietitian weighs in

By Shyla Cadogan, RD

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is now allowing yogurt companies to make a “qualified health claim” that says their products can reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. This is the first claim of its kind that the agency has approved for yogurt makers. So, what does this mean?

In December 2018, Danone of North America filed a petition that cited 117 studies for the authorization of a qualified health claim for yogurt. This probably won’t come as a surprise, considering that Danone is one of the world’s largest food and beverage companies. They are the owners of popular yogurt brands like Silk, Oikos, and Activia.

Qualified health claims are backed by some scientific evidence, but don’t meet the more strict “significant scientific agreement” (SSA) standard that an authorized health claim must. To make sure that the qualified claims don’t mislead consumers, they have to come with a disclaimer that ensures the messaging is clear. While the FDA doesn’t actually have to “approve” these claims, they do need to be reviewed and appropriate language has to be used to prevent legal troubles.

With the new allowance, yogurt companies can say that two cups (3 servings) per week can reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes, according to limited scientific evidence. According to the FDA’s evaluation, there is no limit on added sugar or excess fat that cuts off the ability to make the claim.

Still, the FDA expressed concerns that the claim would be used on yogurts that have high amounts of added sugar. As such, they hope that companies use “careful consideration” when it comes to using it.

Sugar is a common ingredient in most yogurts on the market, especially low or non-fat yogurt varieties in order to make up for the flavor and mouthfeel. Plain yogurts are available in most grocery stores and are the least processed varieties you’ll find. The claim is only for dairy-based yogurts and not their plant-based alternatives typically derived from almonds, coconut, or soy. Even after the review, there is still no concrete reason that explains why this association has been seen in some research. It is hypothesized that it’s the live cultures present that ferment the milk.

A Dietitian’s Take

Yogurt, especially unsweetened and minimally processed, is rich in beneficial bacteria for the gut, calcium, vitamin D, protein, phosphorus, potassium, and other nutrients. However, the reality is that the many Americans who are eating yogurt are eating ones with significant amounts of added sugar.

In the early 2000s, when the low-fat trend started to make waves, companies saw an opportunity to capitalize off people’s newfound interest in eating low-fat products. They wanted to appeal to consumers while also keeping flavor, so they lowered the fat and made up for it by adding lots of added sugar. It worked, and it’s still a popular diet choice today.

Any dairy yogurt can make this claim, not just brands owned by Danone. As a dietitian, my concern is that even if the exact wording cleared by the FDA is used, companies will use it for products like Danone’s YoCrunch Oreo yogurt, which has a whopping 16 grams of added sugar.

Yogurt can be part of a balanced diet, but make sure you read the labels. Whether you are trying to prevent or manage diabetes, or even just lead a generally healthy lifestyle, limiting added sugar is always a good idea.

Yogurt is rich in protein, which is the most satisfying macronutrient. This means that it’ll help to keep you fuller for longer and reduce your chances of falling into cravings and overeating. Greek yogurt is a more concentrated source of protein, meaning it may promote satiety (fullness) even more than regular yogurt. Getting plain Greek yogurt and topping it with your favorite fruits is a great way to add sweetness from whole foods, as well as fiber to further promote steady blood sugar levels.

Source: Study Finds

Shyla Cadogan is a DMV-Based acute care Registered Dietitian. She holds specialized interests in integrative nutrition, metabolic dysfunction, and gastrointestinal disease.

Image: Pixabay

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