The Best Yogurt for People With Diabetes

What to Look for and What to Avoid

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 of yogurt vary so you can choose the brands and varieties that are appropriate for people who have diabetes. 

Glass of Greek yogurt with berries
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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.

Calories

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.

Carbohydrates

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 preparation of these, 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 (around 5%) 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 even 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 just 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

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 to make 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 in a container. Most conventional yogurts, including those made from plant milk, have between 7 and 9 grams.

Fat

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.

Although low-fat yogurt can help you reduce your total calorie and saturated fat intake, it's likely to have lots of added sugar.

Probiotics

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 in Evidence Based Care Journal reported that people with type 2 diabetes who consumed three 100-gram portions 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.

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.

Recap

Yogurt is a smart snack option—as long as you know which kind to choose and which to skip. The ideal yogurt provides a healthy balance of protein and carbohydrates, along with some fat, calcium, and probiotics.

Ingredients

The gold standard of yogurt for people with diabetes is a serving of plain, organic, full-fat yogurt made from the milk of grass-fed cows 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 Avoid

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. While some 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 avoided.

Available Varieties

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 also are 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, with great results. However, because these dairy-free milk substitutes lack lactose, they don't have the same natural sweetness found in cow's milk yogurt. Many have lots of added sugar or other flavors, so checking ingredients labels is important.

Recap

There’s an abundance of yogurt options available today. You can choose traditional dairy products made from animal milk or vegan-friendly plant-based yogurts. However, some should be avoided such as those made with:

  • Synthetic hormone rBST (cow milk brands)
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Preservatives
  • Chemical dyes

Recommended Brands

When choosing a yogurt, keep in mind specific dietary guidelines, especially those that have been given to you by your doctor or nutritionist. There are a number of brands that may be good for you, including these options that are low in carbs and added sugars.

Ways to Enjoy Yogurt

Yogurt for breakfast is a no-brainer. For an extra special treat, top 6 to 8 ounces of plain Greek yogurt with one serving of fresh or frozen berries and 1 tablespoon of chopped nuts for crunch, protein, and healthy fats.

Beyond breakfast, there are other great ways to enjoy yogurt:

  • Dips: Plain Greek yogurt can be used almost exclusively in place of sour cream in dips, dressings, and other recipes. You can also substitute yogurt for some of the mayo in coleslaw for a lighter, tangier version.
  • Baking: Substitute Greek yogurt for sour cream in baked goods, such as cookies, scones, or cake.
  • Smoothies: Mix in yogurt for added thickness, creaminess, and protein. 
  • Condiment: Swap out honey and maple syrup and top whole-grain pancakes or waffles with a dollop of Greek yogurt. 
  • Dessert: Instead of ice cream, try a frozen container of Greek yogurt. Top it with a quarter cup of fresh or frozen berries for a sweet after-dinner treat. 

Summary

Yogurt is rich in nutrients and can be a healthy snack for people with diabetes. Greek and Icelandic yogurts offer the fewest carbohydrate, but other types of yogurt can still be okay if you’re watching your blood sugar. The key is to avoid added ingredients that raise the carb, calorie, and fat content without providing any nutritional benefit. You can also use plain yogurt as a substitute when cooking and baking, replacing less-healthy dairy ingredients with a tasty, low-fat alternative.

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7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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