Go slow on using yoghurt to reduce the risk of diabetes - experts warn


Proponents argue that eating at least two cups of Yoghurt, every week, can help reduce risk of getting Diabetes. 

Photo credit: Fotosearch

Dairy producers from the United States have been given the green light to add claims that yoghurt consumption can help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

The approval comes after one manufacturer, Danone North America, petitioned the drug regulator, the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), in 2018.

The FDA gave the green light this year, but with a caveat.

This is part of a process the FDA calls 'qualified health claims', which manufacturers must adhere to.

In announcing the results, the federal regulator urged manufacturers to be careful about the words used in the claims, saying that the messages must have qualified health claims that do not mislead consumers.

The regulator advises that a qualified health claim must be backed by science and the evidence should be rigorous and recognised.

Proponents of the idea argue that eating at least two cups of yoghurt a week can help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. 

Dr Miguel Freitas, Vice President, Health and Scientific Affairs at Danone North America, said after receiving their petition that they were responding to a growing body of research supporting their claim.

"We decided to petition for this first-of-its-kind qualified health claim. We hope this announcement will provide consumers with simple, actionable information they can use to help reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes through a realistic, easy-to-make dietary change," said Dr Miguel.

Speaking to Dr Catherine Karekezi, executive director of the NCD Alliance Kenya, she says that while yoghurt is a good meal replacement, everything should be taken in moderation.

 Dr Karekezi believes that allowing manufacturers to use this label is a blanket statement that should be taken with caution.

"From my side, I can say that it's a question of giving the right information so that people don't see this as a panacea for everything," she explains.

"In terms of reducing type 2 diabetes, there are several risk factors that can lead to the condition. Yoghurt consumption can be just one component and people may assume it is the answer to everything," she explains.

She says that for people living with diabetes, it is all about careful control of a number of things.

"People should remember that everything they eat, especially carbohydrates and fats, will eventually be converted into glucose. Diabetes is about how the body handles the sugar we eat. And when we talk about sugar, we are not just talking about the refined sugar we put in our tea, but the sugar that comes from the food we eat," she explains.

There are other risk factors that can lead to diabetes, such as obesity, which is why people need to control their food intake.

"At the end of the day, it's all about the calories you take in. It has to be about the amount of food you take, the type of food you take and when you take the food," she advises.

"We can't have the industry jumping on this and then running away with it, because you could end up misleading the public. There needs to be proper labelling on the yoghurt so that people know the sugar, carbohydrate and fat content so that we can allow people to make informed choices," she says.

"It's a question of regulation and moderation, because we don't even know what kind of yoghurt is allowed," she adds.

She shares a scenario that if someone eats yoghurt and then goes on to have some ugali, exceeding their calorie intake for the day, then they are putting their life at risk.

"People should still take their medication and go for routine check-ups," she says.

Worldwide, the number of people with diabetes continues to rise. Data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows a three percent increase in diabetes-related deaths between 2000 and 2019.

The WHO does not mention any dietary preferences to reduce the risk of diabetes, but says that in general; a healthy diet, regular physical activity, maintaining a normal body weight and avoiding tobacco use can help reduce the risk.

They explain that when you get type 2 diabetes, the condition affects the way your body uses sugar (glucose) for energy.

"It prevents the body from using insulin properly, which can lead to high blood sugar levels if left untreated," they explain.

In the country, data from the Kenya Demographic Health Survey released last year shows that about six in 10 women and another seven in 10 men are diabetic.

According to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2017, their analysis showed that there is a 14 per cent chance that consuming yoghurt can help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, compared to not consuming it at all.

"The health effects of dairy products may depend on several complex characteristics (type of dairy product, synergistic effects with other foods, substitution effects and fermentation)," the study said.

However, they said their findings were based on observational studies and could not prove the causality of yoghurt on type 2 diabetes.