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 also be loaded with added sugar or artificial sweeteners. 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.

Carbohydrates: The naturally present milk sugars (lactose) contribute to yogurt's carbohydrate 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 around a third of the carbs in other types of yogurt. They 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 slow the rate at which glucose enters the bloodstream, which helps to balance blood sugar while also contributing to 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 grams and 9 grams, including those made from plant milks.

Fat: Fat can also help slows glucose absorption and boosts satiety. 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 a low-fat yogurt can help you reduce your total calorie and saturated fat intake, it's likely to have lots of added sugar.

Probiotics: New research is emerging about the benefits of probiotic yogurt in people with diabetes. 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 afterwards. 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 for people with diabetes is plain, organic, made from milk of grass-fed cows, and full-fat 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.

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.

Plant sources: Soy, almonds, cashews, macadamias, and coconuts are all being made into make 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 and many have lots of added sugar or other flavors, so checking ingredients labels is important.

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.

Recommended Brands

When choosing a yogurt to try, be sure to keep in mind 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 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. 
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Article Sources
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  1. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Vitamin D fact sheet for health professionals. Updated August 7, 2019.

  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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