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It’s Official: Yogurt May Help Lower Type 2 Diabetes Risk

It’s being called a landmark FDA ruling: The Food and Drug Administration says dairy companies can now officially claim yogurt may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. It’s the first official health claim approved by the FDA for yogurt…

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About time?

You’d think there would be a whole laundry list of officially-approved health claims for yogurt. It’s been touted by science, medicine and its fans for decades as a great way to promote healthy living. And they’ve been eating it for a thousand years in parts of the world where folks live to over 100.

But the FDA still has qualms. In it’s statement announcing the yogurt first, the agency qualifies its approval, saying, “[the claims] are supported by scientific evidence, but do not meet the more rigorous ‘significant scientific agreement’ standard required for an authorized health claim. […] To ensure that these claims are not misleading, they must be accompanied by a disclaimer or other qualifying language to accurately communicate to consumers the level of scientific evidence supporting the claim.”

What it says

The authorized ‘claim’ states that eating 2 – 3 cups / 500 – 750 ml of yogurt weekly may – based on limited scientific evidence – reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. The condition currently afflicts sn estimated 38 million people in the US and 462 million worldwide.

Not surprisingly, the FDA ruling was promoted by a petition filed back in 2018 by Danone North America. Along with Yoplait, Danone is one of the biggest producers of yogurt on the continent. And has been pushing the unofficial health benefits of its product in major marketing programs for decades.

How it works

Yogurt as a fermented food, which in itself implies numerous health benefits. According to a study archived in the National Library of Medicine: “Yoghurt and fermented milks are produced by the fermentation and acidification of milk by viable bacteria.

“Yogurt is a rich source of calcium, providing significant amounts in a bio-available form. It is also a good source of phosphorus, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin B2, and vitamin B12. It also provides high biological value proteins and essential fatty acids. Therefore, yogurt is a nutrition-dense food and an excellent probiotic carrier.”

Naysayers speak out

The FDA has been issuing ‘qualified’ health claims for dietary supplements since 2000, and for food items since 2002. But there are voices within the industry and the scientific community that caution against taking such claims too seriously

Caroline Passerrello, a registered dietitian, nutritionist and instructor at the University of Pittsburgh notes: “In addition to the supporting research being limited, it’s also ‘not very strong’. The way the study was conducted means we can’t really say for sure there is a causal relationship, but more of a correlation between type 2 diabetes and yogurt.”

Dr. Marion Nestle, a nutritionist and molecular biologist, goes as far as to charge, “qualified health claims are ridiculous on their face.” She also notes that most commercially available yogurts are sweetened. If the sweetener is sugar, that may offset any anti-diabetes benefit a person’s yogurt intake could deliver.

The bottom line?

Yogurt makers can now claim their products ‘may’ reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. But they must adhere strictly to the FDA’s approved wording. And they must include, “…a disclaimer or other qualifying language to accurately communicate to consumers the level of scientific evidence supporting the claim.”

Whether the ability to advertise the health claim will materially benefit the yogurt makers remains to be seen. Whether it will substantially impress yogurt fans – or convert any non-fans to yogurt lovers – is, in my view, doubtful.

As Nestle says, “Why would any sensible person think that all you have to do to prevent type 2 diabetes is eat 2 cups of yogurt a week?”

Nevertheless, the FDA seems to be saying, “2 – 3 cups of yogurt a week can’t hurt. And it might help.”

~ Maggie J.