Can two cups of curd a week help keep ‘sugar’ at bay?

This staple in the Indian diet has been found to help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, a claim the US FDA approves

Jayanthi Madhukar
First Published1 May 2024
Yogurt contains certain strains of bacteria, such as lactobacilli, that possess antioxidant properties that can aid in managing insulin levels.
Yogurt contains certain strains of bacteria, such as lactobacilli, that possess antioxidant properties that can aid in managing insulin levels.

Indians are no strangers to fermented food. Be it dosas, idlis, mor kuzhumbu, koozh and more from the south of the Aravali range or dhoklas, jalebis, bhaturas, lona illish, khamiri roti and other delicacies from the north. While most of these fermented foods are made from pulses, lentils, meat products and milk, one unifying fermented product that appears in different Indian cuisines is curd aka yogurt. Every occasion demands that cup of curd at the end of a meal. Traditionally associated with health benefits, now, there is new science that backs these claims.

Also read How regular exercise can help Indians fight diabetes

In response to a petition by Danone North America, the FDA in early March announced that it will allow the first Qualified Health Claim related to a fermented food – yogurt. The announcement is worded as follows: Eating yogurt regularly, at least 2 cups (3 servings) per week, may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.  The announcement comes after a nearly five-year long wait. During that time the FDA reviewed existing research on yogurt and type 2 diabetes, which included data from over 3,00,000 individuals. 

Good for the gut  
The studies cited by the FDA were observational as researchers asked the participants how much yogurt they consumed and then tracked if they got diabetes over time. While it’s possible that the participants who didn’t get diabetes were eating other healthy foods and leading a healthy lifestyle, the FDA purportedly found enough evidence that proved that adding yogurt to a typical American diet could be beneficial to public health. 

Yogurt can be part of the diet for those with type 2 diabetes. Even those with type 1 diabetes can add it as a snack, says Dr A Sharada, consultant endocrinologist and diabetologist, Manipal Millers Road, Bengaluru. “Since yogurt is rich in protein, minerals and vitamins, what sets it apart is the presence of a significant amount of live bacteria which may reduce inflammation, and thus, increase insulin resistance and help the gut. You should opt for low fat yogurt if you are conscious of the amount of fat you are consuming,” explains Sharada. She, too, recommends a minimum requirement of 2 cups or 3 servings per week along with suggesting making yogurt a protein component in the meal. 

The conversation on yogurt also throws a spotlight on probiotics. This food group, which also includes sauerkraut, kimchi and tempeh, has been studied for its potential benefits in improving renal function and mental health. Some research suggests these foods may also help improve fasting blood glucose levels and insulin resistance. 

Suhasini Viswanathan, a certified diabetes educator and qualified dietician and chief nutritionist at Qua Nutrition in Bengaluru, shares that the exact mechanism by which probiotics influence glucose metabolism is not straightforward. Probiotics could help restore the altered gut microbiome seen in individuals with diabetes, leading to reduced blood glucose levels, she says. Another potential pathway is through reducing oxidative stress and improving immune function, which can indirectly impact blood glucose levels.

Balance is key
Certain strains of bacteria found in yogurt, such as lactobacilli, possess antioxidant properties that may aid in managing glucose tolerance and insulin levels, Viswanathan notes. “Additionally, probiotics may help mitigate chronic low-grade inflammation, commonly observed in individuals with diabetes, through their antioxidant effects,” she says. 

While it’s true that Indians consume yogurt in one form or other, it’s difficult to ignore the irony that places the country as the ‘diabetes capital of the world’. Highlighting the multifaceted nature of managing diabetes, Viswanathan says, “India may have a high prevalence of diabetes due to inadequate attention the general population pays to portion control, nutrition and exercise.”

“While we ought to be having a balanced meal, we generally don’t follow a consistent balanced meal approach here. We have certain meals that are well-balanced and certain meals that aren’t. Improving the balance of our meal plate is crucial in controlling the blood sugar level,” says Viswanathan. Exercise is equally important. A December 2023 study by the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that going for a brisk walk everyday significantly lowers the risk for type 2 diabetes. While being physically active at least for 25-30 minutes daily is necessary, Viswanathan insists on adding exercises that help improve overall strength and hormones. “This makes a difference in how the blood sugar is controlled and maintained in the normal range,” she adds. 

As research on yogurt continues, there are several options one could consider to keep sugar at bay. There’s evidence that the Mediterranean diet can prevent type 2 diabetes, so one could build one’s meals around its components – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, seeds and healthy sources of fat such as olive oil and fish. Limiting the consumption of processed and ultra processed meats and food, sugary beverages and maintaining a healthy weight are all beneficial in preventing type 2 diabetes. “We need to look at the whole picture in controlling diabetes,” Viswanathan emphasizes. 

Jayanthi Madhukar is a Bengaluru-based writer.

Also read Understanding the toxic relationship between sugar and the liver

 

 

 

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