The Best Yogurt for People With Diabetes

by David Mendosa Patient Advocate

Yogurt can be one of the best foods for people with diabetes to eat. Or one of the worst.

It is the probiotic food that we eat the most. These foods have friendly bacteria that help us to drive out the bad ones. This can be good for our health, according to the U.S. Government's National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine.

But to get this benefit from yogurt or other probiotic foods, we have to avoid any of them that say on the label that they were heat treated after culturing. That kills the active cultures.

Even worse is when we eat the usual yogurt preparations that are loaded with added sugars. This includes not only frozen yogurts but also what most of us think of as regular yogurt. For example, a little 6-ounce container of "Yoplait Original Blackberry Harvest" sounds great. But its 13 ingredients include so much sugar that it packs 33 grams of carbohydrate, according to the Nutrition Facts label.

When we want to eat a healthy yogurt, we have to start by limiting our selection to plain ones. Then, if we like, we can add a little fresh fruit and perhaps some non-caloric sweetener. I often add a few organic blueberries and a small sprinkling of stevia.

Somebody asked me a few months ago if I could find any organic, Greek style, full fat, plain yogurt. I can't.

But we can come close. I recommend full fat yogurt, particularly for those of us who follow a low-carb diet, because non-fat or 2 percent milk fat yogurts always have added bulking agents that increase the carbs. They don't taste as good either.

I also recommend organic yogurt, but perhaps out of an excess of caution. I do eat organic fruit and vegetables whenever I have a choice, because I want to avoid consuming all the insecticides and herbicides conventional farmers spray on their crops. But I can't find any organic yogurt that is both full fat and plain.

Getting Greek style yogurt isn't a problem. We can make yogurt from a starter culture or turn any yogurt into the thicker and healthier Greek style yogurt with a nifty little strainer. The traditional method is to strain the yogurt through cheesecloth. But that's too time-consuming for me and too messy. A much better way is to use a Cuisipro Donvier Yogurt Cheese Maker. I just dump a container of yogurt into it and wait a few hours for the whey to drain out.

When we strain out the whey, yogurt has less lactose, which is the sugar in milk and milk products. Whey is almost all sugar and water, according to the USDA National Nutrient Database.

Actually, even without straining, yogurt has a lot fewer grams of carbohydrate in it than the Nutrition Facts labels say. Yogurt is a fermented food, and fermentation converts the lactose into lactic acid, which doesn't raise our blood sugar levels and isn't a carbohydrate. The book, Four Corners Diet: The Healthy Low-Carb Way of Eating for a Lifetime, explains why.

"For a standard 8-ounce container of plain yogurt, which usually says it has about 12 grams of carbohydrates, you need to count only 4," write Drs. Jack Goldberg and Karen O'Mara with my friend and colleague Gretchen Becker. "This is not just speculation. Dr. Goldberg has actually measured the carbohydrate content of yogurt in his own laboratory."

Some people will still need to limit their selection of yogurt even further. This includes those of us who have celiac disease and those who are lactose intolerant. Since I think I have a degree of lactose intolerance, I generally avoid yogurt made from cow's milk. I first switched to sheep's milk yogurt -- until I discovered that sheep's milk has more lactose than cow's milk. Redwood Hill Farm makes yogurt from goat's milk, and it is my current yogurt of choice. It's not organic and it includes a couple of thickeners (tapioca and pectin) that I wish it didn't have, but it's the best I can find.

Yogurt fits within the very low-carb diet that I have been following since 2007. At the same time I generally limit what I eat to what people call the Primal Diet, which is the variant of the Paleo Diet that includes some dairy. The right type of yogurt is one of those rare foods that is not only exceptionally healthy but tastes great.

David Mendosa
Meet Our Writer
David Mendosa

David Mendosa was a journalist who learned in 1994 that he had type 2 diabetes, which he wrote about exclusively. He died in May 2017 after a short illness unrelated to diabetes. He wrote thousands of diabetes articles, two books about it, created one of the first diabetes websites, and published a monthly newsletter, “Diabetes Update.” His very low-carbohydrate diet, A1C level of 5.3, and BMI of 19.8 kept his diabetes in remission without any drugs until his death.