Yogurt can be a healthy source of carbohydrates, protein, fat, and good bacteria. However, yogurt can also be loaded with added sugar or artificial sweeteners. If you have diabetes, it’s important to keep an eye on how much and what type of yogurt you eat. You don’t have to forgo the creamy treat; you just need to know which yogurts are best for you.
This article explains what’s in yogurt and how different types vary so you can choose the brands and varieties appropriate for those with diabetes.
Calories and Nutrients in Yogurt
Nutrients are the substances in food that the body uses to function. Nutrients also provide calories, which give the body energy. The number of calories and the type of nutrients that are in commercial yogurts vary widely by type and brand.
Total calories in yogurt can range from 100 to 230 or more, depending on the fat content and sugar level. Add-ins like fruit syrup, honey, or jelly, or toppings such as granola, sprinkles, or rice crisps can drive calories up as well. If you’re eating yogurt as a snack, aim to keep your serving around 100 to 150 calories.
Naturally present milk sugars (lactose) contribute to yogurt’s carbohydrate (carb) count, which means it’s impossible to have a zero-carb yogurt. If you have diabetes, look for Greek yogurt or Icelandic yogurt (also called skyr).
During the preparation of these types of yogurt, some of the whey is removed, leaving behind a thick, protein-rich product with fewer carbs than other types of yogurt. They also have lower levels of lactose than other yogurts. This makes them easier to digest, especially for people with lactose intolerance.
Greek yogurt has about 25% fewer carbs than plain yogurt. That difference doesn’t take into consideration added fruit, flavoring, or sugars. Sticking to the lower-carb yogurt and keeping toppings to a minimum will allow you to build a snack that has between 10 and 15 grams of carbohydrates, which is ideal if you have diabetes.
Non-dairy yogurts such as those made with almond, coconut, or soy milk are available in low-carb varieties. Check labels carefully, though, since thickeners and sugar are often added to these plant-based yogurts to make them rich and thick.
Protein is an essential building block for all muscle and tissue in the body. It’s also a major energy source. Important for people with diabetes, protein helps slow the rate at which glucose enters the bloodstream. That helps balance blood sugar while also helping you feel full and satisfied after eating.
Greek yogurt is generally the highest in protein. In fact, Greek yogurt has about 16 grams of protein per 6-ounce container. Most conventional yogurts, including those made from plant milk, have between 0 and 9 grams of protein per 6-ounce serving.
Fat can also help slow glucose absorption and give you that feeling of satisfaction. It’s also essential for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin D, which in turn plays a vital role in the absorption of calcium.
Low-fat or nonfat yogurt can help to reduce total calorie and saturated fat intake and can be a healthy option as well. Be sure to choose one with no added sugars if possible.
Probiotics consist of a mix of live bacteria and yeasts. They provide a range of health benefits, but they’re considered especially helpful with digestive health.
A 2017 study reported that people with type 2 diabetes who consumed three 100-gram portions (3.5 ounces) of probiotic yogurt per day had lower blood glucose, cholesterol, and diastolic blood pressure than a matched set of individuals who didn’t consume yogurt.
A 2021 review concluded that probiotics may have a glucose-lowering effect in people with type 2 diabetes. The effect appeared to be stronger in participants with poorly controlled diabetes and those not taking insulin.
Most commercial yogurt brands pasteurize their products and add live bacteria cultures afterward. Look for S. thermophilus, L. bulgaricus, L. acidophilus, Bifidus, L. casei, and L. rhamnosus and other strains on the label.
The gold standard of yogurt for people with diabetes is a serving of plain, full-fat yogurt made from milk with a simple (short) ingredient list. Plain yogurt, for example, should ideally contain only milk and/or cream, plus some bacterial cultures.
Look for yogurt made with milk from cows not treated with recombinant bovine somatotropin hormones (rBST). This synthetic hormone increases milk production in cows and may have trickle-down effects on human hormones.
Ingredients to Limit
When reading yogurt labels, watch out for added sugars, which can take many forms. High fructose corn syrup, dextrose, cane sugar, and evaporated cane juice are just a few that may be in the ingredient list.
Sugar can hide in yogurt toppings, such as granola, sweetened nuts, and candies. Plain yogurt is best to buy because you are in control of what toppings and how much you add. Healthy toppings include:
- Fresh fruit
- Whole grain cereals
- Unsalted nuts
- Hemp, chia, flax, and pumpkin seeds
While a little sugar isn’t harmful, it offers no nutritional benefits.
Artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and dyes also fall into the category of compounds without any nutritional benefit, and should generally be limited. There is also emerging evidence that artificial sweeteners could negatively impact gut microbiota and contribute to insulin resistance which can lead to elevated blood sugar levels.
Yogurt offerings have expanded to include not only cow milk bases, but also sheep and goat milk, plus a plethora of plant-based options.
Animal sources: For people with diabetes, plain Greek or Icelandic yogurt made from cow milk is ideal, but those crafted from the milk of goats and sheep are also great options. They tend to be lower in lactose and some research shows goat and sheep milk are less inflammatory than cow milk thanks to their different fatty acid profile. Goat milk is also higher in calcium than cow milk.
Yogurt (whether Greek or regular) has been found to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 14% if consumed daily, according to a 2017 review of studies published in the Journal of Nutrition.
Plant sources: Soy, almonds, cashews, macadamias, and coconuts are all being made into vegan yogurt bases. However, because these dairy-free milk substitutes lack lactose, they don’t have the same natural sweetness found in cow’s milk yogurt.
Many are low in protein and have added sugar or other flavors, so checking ingredient labels is important.
When choosing a yogurt, keep in mind specific dietary guidelines, especially those that have been given to you by your doctor or registered dietitian. There are a number of brands that may be a healthy choice, including these options that are low in carbs and added sugars.