Saffron yoghurt with pistachios

Tuck in: Eating low-fat yoghurt may reduce your risk of developing type-2 diabetes. Photo: Marina Oliphant

Eating low-fat yoghurt can reduce the risk of developing type-2 diabetes by almost a third, a new study has shown.

The Cambridge University study, published in the journal Diabetologia, analysed seven-day food diaries kept by 4000 British men and women aged 45 to 74 years, including 753 who developed type-2 diabetes over the following 11 years.

Researchers divided participants into low, medium and high consumers of dairy and also analysed the type of dairy products they were consuming.

They found that people who consumed the highest amount of low-fat yoghurt had a 28 per cent reduced risk of developing diabetes compared to people who did not consume low-fat yoghurt.

The group consumed an average of 4.5 125 gram pots of low-fat yoghurt a week. The researchers classified products containing less than 3.9 per cent fat as low fat.

High consumption of other low-fat fermented diary products including cottage cheese and fromage frais was also associated with a reduced risk of developing type-2 diabetes.

The researchers did not find any association between total or high-fat dairy consumption, or consumption of any kind of milk, and the risk of developing type-2 diabetes.

Austin Hospital endocrinologist Richard O'Brien said the study did not prove that eating low-fat fermented dairy products caused the reduced diabetes risk, although there was a potential scientific basis for the link.

He said it was possible that chemicals called menaquinones made by the fermentation process could protect against diabetes, and that probiotic bacteria contained in yoghurt could promote a healthy environment in the gut.

Associate Professor O'Brien said it was important to note that the yoghurt eaters in the study tended to be slimmer, more physically active and smoke and drink less, so were a more healthy group than average overall.

"The investigators used sophisticated computer modelling to try and control for all of those other factors but this is always difficult," he said.

"Nevertheless, I believe these results are really important as they build on what we know from previous studies. I already eat yoghurt regularly and I'll certainly be recommending it to my patients from now on."

La Trobe University dietician Audrey Tierney said that the key message was "to look at the net effect of whole foods, dietary patterns and healthy lifestyle factors and not only isolated foods, nutrients or behaviours".

Dr Tierney said people eating low-fat yoghurt should make sure the fat had not been replaced with high amounts of sugar. She said Australian dietary guidelines recommended foods containing less than 10g of sugar per 100g.

About 1 million Australians have been diagnosed with type-2 diabetes, a chronic condition in which the pancreas does not produce sufficient amounts of insulin, which is needed to convert glucose into energy.

Lifestyle factors including high blood pressure, being overweight and having a poor diet increase the risk of developing type-2 diabetes.