Guest Post Sally Marchini, Dietitian
With so much fascinating talk about gut microbiata (micro-organisms/bacteria) and health about, I thought it worth a fresh look at yoghurt as part of the dairy serves in our day as it is a great source of these microbiata in our diets. I’m also often asked about which are the best yoghurts from a fat and sugar perspective. Please consult your healthcare team before following the advice here, especially if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or have a compromised immune system.
We’ll start with a review of why dairy is so important in our diets, then go on to look more closely at probiotics (live organisms/bacteria) and to look at some of the yoghurt choices available on the market, and what to look for when you’re making choices. We’ll finish with some ideas to help us to include more yoghurt in our day.
Last year I wrote a couple of blogs on ‘Dairy and Diabetes’ that I’d really like to remind everyone of, as they included some important messages for our diabetes health.
In the first one, ‘Dairy Foods – health benefits for us with diabetes’ we looked at the dairy and alternatives group in the Healthy Eating Guidelines for Adults brochure. We notice that different genders and ages have significantly different requirements in this important food group. We all need different amounts for different reasons, and for us with diabetes it’s a really important food group for many reasons. Not least, that dairy products have a low-glycemic index. There’s also a great amount of evidence relating to how meeting our dairy serves can contribute to improved wellbeing, with or without diabetes, so pop back and have a read of this one too.
We’re also reminded in the words of the Australian Dietary Guidelines that: “Milk, cheese and yoghurt have various health benefits and are a good source of many nutrients, including calcium, protein, iodine, vitamin A, vitamin D, riboflavin, vitamin B12 and zinc. These foods provide calcium in a readily absorbable and convenient form.”
The Guidelines also remind people with lactose intolerance in relation to yoghurt that: “lactose in yoghurt is already partially broken down by bacteria that thicken the yoghurt, so should be well tolerated”.
The second blog (link above) is about milk comparisons and more ideas for including more dairy in our diet.
Which leads us on nicely to more on yoghurts….
Probiotics – why are they important?
Yoghurt provides similar health benefits that milk does and can have the added benefits of good bacteria or probiotics (eg aBc – La-5 Lactobacillus acidophilus, BB-12 bifidobacterium, Lc-431 Lactobacillus Casei and LCG) which contribute to improved health. Health based on those good bacteria is currently attracting a lot of research into improved immunity, general wellbeing and to improve specific conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, NAFLD (very relevant for those with type 2 diabetes) and mental health among others. This article provides much more detail if you’d like to read more about probiotics and health/wellbeing.
However, not all yoghurts contain added probiotics, so it’s important to check the label for mention of them, otherwise you may not get the benefits you’re hoping for from them. It’s also worth noting that yoghurts containing probiotics will have a shorter shelf-life as the bacteria deteriorate fairly quickly, so don’t wait around until the yoghurt is on its ‘best by’ date if you’re hoping for the probiotic benefits.
Fat & Sugar in yogurts
With diabetes, and even just in general health, it’s important that we minimise added sugars and keep an eye on the saturated fats in our food products.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommends that we choose low-fat dairy products, which means we’re looking for less than 2g/100g saturated fat due to its link with heart health issues, inflammation and increased insulin resistance/decreased insulin production over time. This is particularly important for us with diabetes, and although adding fat to a carbohydrate will lower the glycemic index of the meal, it is just not worth taking the risk with saturated fats. It’s best to try to minimise them in our food choices.. The other aspects of the yoghurt (low GI quality carb and protein) will still help to lower the glycaemic index of the meal without the extra fat.
As to added sugar, we are always looking for as little as possible as an added ingredient. Lactose is a naturally occurring sugar with a low-GI that’s found in dairy foods, so just looking at the amount of sugar in the nutrition information panel may not help us to know whether it has added sugar. Check the ingredients listing first, looking for ‘added’ sources of sugar, like ‘sugar’, honey, palm sugar, maple syrup and other syrups. On the nutrition information panel, look for less than 10g/100g sugars to help watch the added sugars.
If you like the sweeter flavoured yogurts, try adding your own sweetness in the form of fruit, or even a small amount of added sugar, so at least you are in control of the extra sugars. Of course artificially sweetened yogurts are also readily available if you don’t mind the flavour.
Dietitian Connection recently published a comparison table of yoghurts by student dietitian Stacey Beech (thank you Stacey!) which includes information about all the macronutrients (fat, carbohydrate & protein) as well as fibre, calcium, sodium and probiotics. From this list I’ve picked a few ‘better’ examples of brands from that table to try, with a focus on the good bacteria, the low saturated fat, and low added added sugars. My top three favourites are:
- The Nestle Ski Soleil (artificially sweetened) range
- Vaalia Natural Probiotic Yoghurt (unflavoured)
- Pauls All Naturally Tub Set Yoghurt 99.8% Fat Free (also unflavoured)
- Jalna Low Fat plain yoghurt
There are other yoghurts on the market that may not have made Stacey’s list, so remember that you want the pack to tell you about the good bacteria (probiotics) it contains, look for less than 2g/100g saturated fat and less than 10g/100g sugar (preferably no added ‘sugar’). This Aldi one is a good example. It’s 2.7g/100g saturated fat, just over our target, but ticks all the other boxes so I’d say that it was worth a try too!
If you’re finding that plain yoghurt is a little bitter for your tastebuds, why not give the lactose free versions a try. These seem sweeter because the added lactase enzyme has split the lactose sugar into its parts, which changes the way it tastes, but with the same health benefits.
Some of the strained Greek yoghurts are also less tart because the whey has been strained off.
Of course you can always make your own, but watch the sugar and fat components in doing that 🙂
Multiple uses for yoghurt
For those of you who struggle to meet the recommended dairy serves in your day, yoghurt is an excellent option that can be included multiple times across the day. More than one serve a day is easy to achieve. It works:
- At breakfast on top of cereal with fruit
- As a snack or dessert choice
- As a dressing on your salad (mixed with fresh herbs, lemon juice or vinegar and a teaspoon of grainy mustard)
- In place of sour cream on your baked potato (helping to lower the overall GI of the potato)
- In place of fats in baking recipes (read this blog by Joan Bailey to learn more)
- As dip or accompaniment to Indian curries (example recipe)
How else do you include yoghurt in your day?
Sally is owner of her private practice (Marchini Nutrition), has had type 1 diabetes for close to 40 years and coeliac disease for many years too.