The Best Yogurt for People With Diabetes

What to Look for and What to Avoid

Glass of Greek yogurt with berries

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Yogurt can be a healthy source of carbohydrates, protein, fat, and good bacteria. However, with the exception of plain varieties, yogurt can be loaded with added sugar or artificial sweeteners, so if you have diabetes, it's important to keep an eye on your intake. But that doesn't mean you have to forgo the creamy treat. Yogurt is a smart snack option—as long as you know which kind to choose and which to skip. 

Analyze the Nutrients

Nutrient profiles vary widely among types and brands of yogurt. The ideal yogurt, whether dairy-based or plant-based, provides a healthy balance of protein and carbohydrates, along with some fat, calcium, and good-for-you probiotics, with a minimum of added sugar, preservatives, or food coloring—if any.

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. To keep calories low, buy plain yogurt and add a 1/4 cup of frozen blueberries at home as a natural fruit sweetener.

Carbohydrates: The naturally present milk sugars (lactose) contribute to yogurt's carbohydrate count (as well as any add-ins, like honey), which means it's impossible to have a zero-carb yogurt. If you have diabetes, look for Greek or Icelandic varieties, which generally have one-third of the carbs as conventional yogurts—around 7 grams as compared to 42 grams for a soy variety. The preparation of Greek and Icelandic yogurt (also known as skyr) removes some of the whey and leaves behind a thicker, more protein-rich—and lower carb—yogurt. These varieties also have lower levels of lactose (around 5%) than other yogurts, making them easier to digest, especially for people with lactose intolerance.

The ideal yogurt for someone with diabetes has fewer than 10 grams of carbohydrates.

Protein: An essential building block for all muscle and tissue in the body and a major energy source, protein also helps reduce the rate of glucose's entry into the bloodstream, which helps to balance blood sugar, while also contributing to a sense of fullness.

Greek yogurt is generally the highest in protein. Some brands of Greek yogurt have up to 17 grams. whereas most conventional yogurts have between 7 and 9 grams of protein, including those made from plant milks.

Fat: Fat is also necessary for limiting a blood sugar rush by slowing glucose absorption and providing a sense of satiety after eating. Fat is essential for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin D, which in turn plays a vital role in the absorption of calcium. Without fat, these nutrients won't successfully be ushered into the cells.

While choosing a low-fat yogurt can help you reduce your total calorie intake as well as decrease your saturated fat (the type of fat that is purported to increase LDL cholesterol), low-fat yogurts tend to have more added sugar to make up for the loss of flavor. Whole milk (full-fat) varieties actually tend to have fewer carbs.

Probiotics: New research is emerging about the benefits of probiotic yogurt in people with diabetes. A 2017 study published 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 in live bacteria cultures after pasteurization, but these cultures are still highly beneficial to gut health. Look for S. Thermophilus, L. Bulgaricus, L. Acidophilus, Bifidus, L. Casei, and L. Rhamnosus and other strains on the label.

Analyze the Ingredients

The gold standard of yogurt is plain, organic, made from milk of grass-fed cows, and full-fat—not the low-fat or nonfat varieties, 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), a synthetic hormone that increases milk production in cows and may have trickle-down effects on human hormones.

Ingredients to Avoid

The biggest culprit to watch out for when reading yogurt labels are 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. If you have diabetes, your practitioner may ask you to limit the amount of sugar you eat so as not to spike your glucose.

Artificial sweeteners, preservatives, food coloring, or dyes also fall into the category of compounds without any nutritional benefit, and should generally be avoided.

Available Yogurt 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 an exceptional meal and snack option due to the low carbohydrate and high protein content. Yogurts crafted from the milk of goats and sheep also tend to be lower in lactose and therefore better-suited for people who are lactose-sensitive. Some research shows that 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.

Plant sources: Soy, almonds, cashews, macadamias, and coconuts are all being utilized to make vegan yogurt bases, with great results. However, many of these formulations still have lots of added sugar or other flavors to make them taste sweeter (no lactose means they don't have the same natural sweetness as cow milk yogurt), so be sure to check the labels and look for plain varieties.

Yogurt (whether Greek or regular) can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes by 14% if consumed daily, according to a 2017 review of studies published in the Journal of Nutrition.

Recommended Brands

When choosing a yogurt to try, be sure to keep in mind any specific dietary parameters that may have been outlined for you by a diabetes educator or nutritionist. There are several options on the market that feature a low-carb and low added-sugars profile.

Yogurt Carbs Protein Fat Added Sugars
Siggi's Vanilla Whole Milk Skyr 11g 12g 4.5g 5g
Icelandic Provisions Plain Skyr 8g 17g 2.5g 0g
Chobani Less Sugar Greek Yogurt Gili Cherry 10g 12g 2.5g 5g
Fage TruBlend Vanilla 9g 13g 2.5g 0g
Bellwether Farms Plain Sheep Milk Yogurt 6g 10g 9g 0g
Redwood Hill Farm Plain Goat Milk Yogurt 11g 6g 6g 0g
Stonyfield Organic Grass-Fed Greek Plain 6g 14g 5g 0g
Trader Joe's Organic Grass-Fed Plain Yogurt        
Coyo Dairy-Free Coconut Milk Yogurt, Chocolate 10g 3g 37g 7g
Forager Project Dairy-Free Cashewmilk Yogurt 9g 3g 7g 0g

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 sub out 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 some fresh or frozen berries for a sweet after-dinner treat. 

A Word From Verywell

Having diabetes doesn't mean you can't enjoy yogurt as part of a healthy diet, but it does mean that you should learn what to look for so as not to sabotage your blood sugar control. Look for Greek varieties and/or choose plain, full-fat versions for higher protein, lower carbs, healthy fats, and good vitamin absorption.

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Article Sources
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  2. Rezaei M, Sanagoo A, Jouybari L, et al. The effect of probiotic yogurt on blood glucose and cardiovascular biomarkers in patients with type II diabetes: A randomized controlled trial. Evidence Based Care J. 2017;6(4):26-35. doi:10.22038/EBCJ.2016.7984

  3. Malekinejad H, Rezabakhsh A. Hormones in dairy foods and their impact on public health - A narrative review articleIran J Public Health. 2015;44(6):742–758.

  4. Rubio-Martín E, García-Escobar E, Ruiz de Adana MS, et al. Comparison of the effects of goat dairy and cow dairy-based breakfasts on satiety, appetite hormones, and metabolic profileNutrients. 2017;9(8):877. Published 2017 Aug 15. doi:10.3390/nu9080877

  5. Salas-Salvadó J, Guasch-Ferre M, Díaz-López A, Babio N. Yogurt and diabetes: overview of recent observational studies. The Journal of Nutrition. 2017 Jul 1;147(7):1452S-61S. doi:10.3945/jn.117.248229

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