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New FDA-Backed Qualified Claim: Yogurt Lowers Diabetes Risk

    Two jars of yogurt with spoons on a wooden table to represent the new FDA approved claim that yogurt lowers risk of type II diabetes.

    Written by: Brittany T. Truong, Ph.D. | Issue # 121 | 2024

    • After reviewing limited scientific evidence, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced its first qualified health claim for a food: yogurt. 
    • Yogurt manufacturers can now claim that regular consumption of milk-based yogurt can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.  
    • Nutrition experts note that yogurt alone cannot cure or prevent type 2 diabetes. It is meant to supplement a healthy diet and lifestyle.

    For thousands of years, yogurt has been recognized as a healthy staple in the human diet [1]. Studies have shown that yogurt can improve mental health, reduce inflammation, boost gut health, and lower the risks of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

    Yet, it wasn’t until a few months ago that the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) acknowledged the growing body of scientific evidence regarding the health benefits of yogurt [2]. 

    In its first-ever qualified health claim for a food, the FDA announced that yogurt manufacturers can now claim, “Eating yogurt regularly, at least 2 cups (3 servings) per week, may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes according to limited scientific evidence” [2]. The announcement was made in response to a petition submitted by Danone North America in 2019. 

    Qualified health claims, like this one, are supported by scientific evidence but do not meet the more rigorous standards required for an “authorized health claim” [3]. Danone’s petition cited 117 publications on the relationship between yogurt and type 2 diabetes [2]. The FDA primarily focused on the observational studies containing human data and found that, of these, 28 of the publications had sufficient data to draw conclusions about the link between the two [2, 4].

    Ronan Lordan, a postdoctoral researcher at the Institutional for Translational Medicine and Therapeutics at the University of Pennsylvania, says in a new article published in Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome: Clinical Research & Reviews that this is the first time the FDA has approved a qualified health claim about a single food, rather than an ingredient or other component, which has traditionally been the case [4].

    “It is notable that the FDA did not single out any one nutrient as the responsible agent for the potential health benefits described,” says Lordan. “This is likely because many constituents, including lipids, proteins, and minerals, within yogurt have been associated with various cardiometabolic health effects.” 

    Critics to the health claim noted that yogurt can be high in added sugar [2, 5], and by approving it, the FDA may inadvertently increase the prevalence of type 2 diabetes [2]. This is particularly concerning in the United States, where 97.6 million adults are already prediabetic.   

    “It is a valid concern,” Lordan says. “However, the FDA concluded that the benefits of yogurt consumption appeared to be independent of the sugar or fat content.” In other words, the association between yogurt and the reduced risk of type 2 diabetes was statistically significant regardless of how much sugar or fat was in the yogurt. 

    The FDA was more concerned that the high added sugar content of some yogurts may contribute empty calories, adding little to no nutritional value to a person’s diet. The agency noted that yogurt manufacturers should consider this before adding the health claim to their products [2]. 

    Regardless, Lordan adds that if reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes is a primary health goal, consumers should try to reach for a milk-based yogurt with minimal added sugars. 

    “Consumers and healthcare providers should be aware that yogurt consumption alone will not prevent type 2 diabetes,” Lordan says. “It must be consumed as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle. One food alone cannot prevent type 2 diabetes.” 

    References

    1. Fisberg M, Machado R. History of yogurt and current patterns of consumption. Nutrition Reviews. 2015;73(suppl_1):4-7.
    2. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Petition for a qualified health claim for yogurt and reduced risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus (docket no. FDA-2019-p-1594) U.S. Food & Drug Administration; 2024 [Available from: https://www.fda.gov/media/176608/download.
    3. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Qualified health claims: U.S. Food & Drug Administration; 2024 [updated March 28, 2024. Available from: https://www.fda.gov/food/food-labeling-nutrition/qualified-health-claims.
    4. Lordan R. A new era for food in health? The FDA announces a qualified health claim for yogurt intake and type II diabetes mellitus risk reduction. Diabetes Metab Syndr. 2024;18(4):103006.
    5. Moore JB, Horti A, Fielding BA. Evaluation of the nutrient content of yogurts: A comprehensive survey of yogurt products in the major uk supermarkets. BMJ Open. 2018;8(8):e021387.