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The Better Blood Sugar Secret In Your Refrigerator

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In a shocking claim issued just weeks ago, the FDA says that eating yogurt may reduce diabetes risk – and that yogurt companies may now make a qualified claim to indicate this. The FDA says it’s now permissible to use a qualified claim that consuming yogurt is linked to a reduced risk of Type-2 diabetes. What does this mean for you?

Dairy consumption and diabetes risk

Five years ago, yogurt giant Danone North America submitted a qualified health claim petition to the FDA requesting that the agency review the use of said claim for the link found in a study between yogurt consumption and reduced risk of Type-2 diabetes.

They based this request on a study published in the journal BMC Medicine in 2014 that supports the claim—showing that each serving of yogurt per day was incrementally linked with a 17 percent lower risk for developing Type 2 diabetes. This same study did not find a similar significant link between total dairy consumption and Type 2 diabetes risk.

Interestingly, this reduced risk of diabetes is based on yogurt itself as a food—not a particular compound or nutrient in yogurt. And amazingly, these blood sugar benefits were apparent regardless of fat or sugar content!

The FDA decision said that companies can use this qualified health claim so long as they meet the definition set by the FDA and do not mislead consumers. The FDA specifies that the minimum amount needed is two cups, or three servings, per week of yogurt. Companies must word their claim this way: “Eating yogurt regularly, at least two cups (three servings) per week, may reduce the risk of Type-2 diabetes. [The] FDA has concluded that there is limited information supporting this claim.”

For their part, Danone North America said that they hope the news will empower consumers with simple, actionable info they can use to help lower their risk of developing Type-2 diabetes.

While the information is simple and actionable, that’s true; it may not be entirely practical.

Where the FDA got it wrong

Interestingly, the FDA saw fit to single out one food as diabetes “preventive” while advocating a food pyramid emphasizing grains that can metabolize the same as how sugar does. While protein products such as yogurt tend to stabilize blood sugar, dozens of high-quality proteins don’t qualify for a qualified health claim like that given to yogurt.

Perhaps even more disturbing, though... is that sugar content (or lack thereof) is not a qualifying factor for this qualified health claim. Say what? High sugar in the bloodstream is a crucial marker of Type-2 diabetes! That’s the whole point of blood sugar tests. So, it’s surprising that a company producing sugar-sweetened yogurts among its yogurt options is allowed to make a diabetes Type-2 prevention health claim – even on those high-sugar products.

And make no mistake, the sugar in yogurt can put you at risk for developing cardiovascular and blood sugar problems.

Sugar’s link to diabetes

As evidence, a meta-analysis published in 2022 found that high dietary sugar consumption is harmful and not beneficial for health – especially for cardiometabolic disease. The study’s resulting recommendations included cutting the consumption of free or added sugars to less than 25 g/day (about six teaspoons/day) – and limiting sugar-sweetened beverages to less than one serving per week to address these adverse results.

The fact is that added sugars present risk factors for obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, gout, fatty liver disease, dental caries, and some cancers.

Most studies on added sugars have been performed using sugar-sweetened beverages since that’s the largest source of added sugars for many people. In this umbrella study, evidence suggested that the highest levels of dietary sugar consumption (vs. the lowest) were associated with weight gain and fatty liver disease, which can trigger diabetes.

While it’s true that these tests were done with sugar-sweetened beverages, that shouldn’t mean that excess sugar consumption is safe; it just happened to be the easiest way to measure sugar levels and their health impact.

Our takeaway

We encourage you to take the new FDA recommendation with a grain of salt. While there’s no question that yogurt is good for you—it’s rich in protein, probiotics, and other nutrients like calcium, zinc, and B vitamins—not all yogurt is good for you. That’s right—those sugar-laden varieties can do harm by raising your blood sugar. So, increase your yogurt consumption by all means, but pick the unsweetened brands.

Kristen Monaco, “FDA Says Eating Yogurt May Reduce Diabetes Risk: Products will be allowed to carry claims as long as they don’t mislead consumers, MedPage Today, March 4, 2024. https://www.medpagetoday.com/endocrinology/diabetes/109004?xid=nl_mpt_morningbreak2024-03-05&eun=g1616906d0r

Huang Y, Chen Z, Chen B, Li J, Yuan X, Li J, Wang W, Dai T, Chen H, Wang Y, Wang R, Wang P, Guo J, Dong Q, Liu C, Wei Q, Cao D, Liu L. Dietary sugar consumption and health: umbrella review. BMJ. 2023 Apr 5;381:e071609. doi: 10.1136/bmj-2022-071609. PMID: 37019448; PMCID: PMC10074550.

Wang M, Yu M, Fang L, Hu RY. Association between sugar-sweetened beverages and type 2 diabetes: A meta-analysis. J Diabetes Investig. 2015 May;6(3):360-6. doi: 10.1111/jdi.12309. Epub 2014 Dec 11. PMID: 25969723; PMCID: PMC4420570.

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