Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Can yoghurt prevent diabetes?

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A friend of mine recently shared the news of a new study reporting an association between yoghurt consumption and decreased risk of type 2 diabetes.

The study was actually a meta-analysis of three large studies. Meta-analyses always make me a little nervous due to the ease of cherry picking and interpreting the results to yield the desired effect. The results of a meta-analysis can only be as good as the results of the original studies on which they’re based. I’m not saying this was the case here, just that it’s something to bear in mind when reading about meta-analyses. The researchers do have on their side the fact that all three studies had large sample sizes. After examining the results of these three studies, they added an additional 11 prospective-cohort studies for their meta-analysis.

The researchers controlled for a number of potential confounders. However, there’s always a remaining risk that an unaccounted for confounding variable might be the true reason for any observed effect. While the researchers reported a significant decreased risk of type 2 diabetes in regular yoghurt consumers they were also quick to acknowledge that this does not indicate causation. Yes, people who consume yoghurt appear to be less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than people who don’t. However, the studies all relied upon self-reported food frequency questionnaires and they were observational. It is possible that there is some unaccounted for variable that’s reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes in yoghurt consumers other than the yoghurt.

The researchers do make an interesting suggestion that the probiotics in yoghurt may be responsible for the decreased risk of type 2 diabetes. I do wonder about the validity of this as many yoghurts contain limited live bacteria due to their processing. In addition, it’s unlikely that many probiotics in yoghurt survive the acidic stomach environment to make their way to the intestines. Perhaps it’s the by-products of the bacteria in the yoghurt (e.g. vitamins, lactic acid) that are responsible for decreased risk of type 2 diabetes. Just postulating here. I would love to see a study in which participants are prescribed diets containing either yoghurt with live bacteria, yoghurt without live bacteria, and no yoghurt. Yes, it would take a long time to determine if the yoghurt reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes but other effects could be examined as well and it would be interesting to see what the true effects of ¬†regular yoghurt consumption are on health.


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Grocery store lessons: Honey Bunches of Oats Greek Yogurt Honey Crunch

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I’ve noticed a proliferation of Greek yoghurt “product” on grocery store shelves recently. Capitalizing on the popularity of Greek yoghurt, the food industry is now making “Greek yoghurt” cereals and granola bars. But do these products provide you with the same benefits (i.e. protein and probiotics) as eating actual Greek yogurt does?

One of these products is Honey Bunches of Oats Greek Yogurt Honey Crunch. Essentially, this is a flake-type cereal with a smidgen of yoghurt flavouring. “Greek yogurt powder” is the 20th ingredient; not exactly prominent. It’s also important to note that it’s a powder. Even if this “yogurt” still contained any live probiotics (which is highly unlikely) the miniscule amount included in this product is not enough to provide you with any of the health benefits you would obtain from eating actual Greek yoghurt. The same goes for protein. There is only four grams of protein in a 3/4 cup serving of this cereal. In comparison to plain Greek yoghurt which can have as much as 18 grams of protein per serving, and even flavoured Greek yoghurt which generally has 8 grams of protein, this is not a whole lot of protein. To put this in perspective, Shredded Wheat (which consists solely of wheat) contains six grams of protein per serving.

Aside from the yoghurt factor, looking at the overall nutrition profile of the cereal, it’s still not a great choice. The second ingredient is sugar. Keeping aware that sugar is also included in other forms and ingredients further down the ingredient list, it may actually be the most abundant ingredient in this cereal.¬†Honey Bunches of Oats Greek Yogurt Honey Crunch boasts that it’s a “source of fibre”. Um… 3 grams of fibre in a cereal is nothing to boast about.

My advice: don’t fall for these Greek yoghurt products. If you want to obtain the nutritional benefits of Greek yoghurt, eat actual Greek yoghurt.


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Probiotic yoghurt vs regular yoghurt

I often hear people talking about probiotic yoghurt. It’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine as all yoghurt should, by its very nature, contain probiotics, not just the stuff marketed as probiotic.

Probiotics are simply the bacteria used to make the yoghurt. If you look at the label of your yoghurt container it should list “active cultures” in the ingredients. There are your probiotics. The types of bacteria present in each brand of yoghurt vary and, unfortunately, we don’t know which are the most beneficial. There have actually been very few studies on the benefits of these probiotics. Despite the lack of research into the specific microorganisms present in yoghurt, we still know that, at the very least, low-fat yoghurt (preferably plain or at least sugar-free) is a good source of protein and other nutrients such as calcium.

Don’t feel compelled to choose the special probiotic yoghurt. Go with the brand you prefer as you’ll be getting probiotics regardless of marketing.