It is recommended that we should eat dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt as part of a healthy diet. Because these foods are high in protein and calcium, moderate consumption of low-fat dairy products is thought to be important for growth, repair and strong bones.
However, some recent studies have suggested that eating dairy products might not be as good for us as previously thought. A study published last week suggested that drinking three or more glasses of milk a day may be linked to increased fracture risk, and a Swedish investigation found a lower incidence of lung, breast and ovarian cancer in those with lactose intolerance – people who avoid consuming dairy products – compared with their lactose-tolerant relatives and the general population.
Evidence from a recent meta-analysis suggests that overall dairy product intake protects against the development of type 2 diabetes, but contrasting findings have been reported on the effect of saturated fat found in dairy products on diabetes risk. A high level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the diet is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, but recent findings suggest that the specific type of saturated fatty acid – “odd chain” or “even chain” – may be important in determining risk.
Can yogurt prevent diabetes?
The relationship between dairy products and type 2 diabetes is indeed complex, and in a study published today in BMC Medicine, Frank Hu and colleagues from Harvard School of Public Health addressed the question of which specific dairy products are linked to diabetes risk. The authors analyzed data from three large cohort studies, HPFS, NHS and NHS II, and carried out an updated meta-analysis. Overall, the authors found no association between total dairy consumption and type 2 diabetes risk. When dairy products were broken down into individual types – including milk, cheese, yogurt (plain and flavored), cream and ice cream – yogurt intake was consistently associated with lower risk of type 2 diabetes. The authors conclude that:
“We found that higher intake of yogurt is associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, whereas other dairy foods and consumption of total dairy did not show this association. The consistent findings for yogurt suggest that it can be incorporated into a healthy dietary pattern.”
These findings provide evidence that when consumed as part of a healthy diet, yogurt can help to reduce our risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The authors highlight that more research into the effect of individual dietary components on type 2 diabetes risk is required, and we look forward to the results of randomized controlled trials on the protective effects of yogurt in the future.