The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Eat Yogurt to Help Prevent Type 2 Diabetes?

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Eat better

Monday, Oct 30, 2017

Over the past three decades, rates of type 2 diabetes (T2D) have skyrocketed worldwide. In the U.S. alone, T2D affects nearly 30 million people. T2D carries with it many health risks including cardiovascular disease, deterioration of vision, kidney disease, diabetic ulcers, and amputation.
The economic cost of T2D is staggering; therefore prevention of this condition is of considerable interest to health professionals. The ‘perfect storm’ for development of T2D is a combination of upper body obesity, sedentary lifestyle, middle to older age, and a genetic predisposition to this disease. Diet is also thought to play an important role in determining the risk for developing T2D.

In a previous blog, we discussed the DASH Eating Plan as an effective method for helping to control hypertension. Among other things, DASH emphasizes a moderate intake (2-3 servings per day) of reduced-fat dairy. Scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health have thoroughly examined the evidence for any signs of a relationship between dietary intake of dairy and risk of developing T2D. A total of 41,436 male and 153,022 female health professionals who did not have T2D, completed detailed questionnaires at baseline. Several of the questions were related to dietary intake of dairy products. The questionnaires were repeated every 4 years. Over an average follow-up period of 25 years, 15,156 confirmed cases of T2D developed in this population. When examining total dairy intake, no association was found with risk of developing T2D.  Next, the researchers compared full-fat versus reduced-fat total dairy intake, and again found no association. They continued to ‘drill down’ and found no association between milk intake and T2D risk. However, when they got to yogurt intake, they hit the jackpot!  For each 1 serving of yogurt/day increment, the risk of developing T2D was reduced by 17%. A serving of yogurt is defined as 8 ounces, just in case you were wondering. Because there are so many other factors that can influence the risk of developing T2D, the researchers carefully controlled for things such as age, body size, smoking, physical activity, medication use, and family history of diabetes.  

It’s important to note that studies like these do not necessarily prove cause and effect. Researchers must come up with biologically plausible mechanisms to explain these types of findings before cause and effect can be suggested. A very promising mechanism that is being explored is the relationship between probiotic bacteria and insulin action. You are probably already aware that yogurt is loaded with these helpful probiotic types of bacteria. Individuals who develop T2D are insulin resistant, which means that a normal amount of insulin produces a sub-normal effect on glucose removal from the bloodstream. The thinking is that probiotic bacteria enhance the action of insulin, leading to a decreased risk of T2D.  Regular yogurt consumers also seem to have an easier time maintaining their body weight and preventing weight gain. Because obesity is a strong predictor of T2D, the thought is that preventing obesity in turn helps to prevent T2D.

These findings strongly suggest that yogurt consumption should be incorporated on a regular basis for overall good health as well as prevention of T2D. The 2015-20202 Dietary Guidelines  for consuming dairy include 2 cup-equivalents daily for children ages 2 to 3 years, 2.5 cup-equivalents daily for children ages 4 to 8 years, and 3 cup-equivalents daily for youth ages 9-18 and adults. A cup-equivalent of dairy is 8 ounces of milk or yogurt, 1.5 ounces of natural cheese, or 2 cups of cottage cheese.   Don’t forget that regular physical activity and achieving a reasonable body weight are keys to prevention as well!


Chen, M., Sun, Q., Giovannucci, E., Mozaffarian, D., Manson, J. E., Willett, W. C., and Hu, F. (2014). Dairy consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: 3 cohorts of US adults and an updated meta-analysis. BMC Med, 12:215. doi:10.1186/s12916-014-0215-1.