Opinion: New qualified health claim on yogurt elevates dairy in healthy diets – Agri-Pulse

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Every June is National Dairy Month. Only this year, there is a new reason to celebrate. Recently, the Food and Drug Administration made a pivotal decision: it announced the first-ever qualified health claim for yogurt. 

This claim recognizes a potential link between regular yogurt consumption and a reduced risk of type-2 diabetes. Some hail it as a groundbreaking revelation; however, it’s not a mystery, just a lot of science. The qualified health claim will be helpful for Americans looking for actionable information on how to modify their diet to help reduce the risk of type-2 diabetes and makes dairy central to discussions around how to design healthy diets and lifestyles.

Qualified health claims, or QHCs, are statements reviewed by the FDA that have strict wording and are backed by emerging evidence linking a food substance to a reduced risk of a health condition. QHCs often come with disclaimers to help explain the science to consumers.

The QHC for yogurt is important because diabetes is one of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S., impacting over 37 million Americans with 1.2 million new cases diagnosed annually. The overwhelming majority are type 2 diabetes cases, which can often be managed with lifestyle changes like being active and eating nutrient-rich foods. Based on this new claim, yogurt could be one of those foods.

The new claim states, “Eating yogurt regularly, at least 2 cups (3 servings) per week, may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes according to limited scientific evidence.” While it doesn’t disqualify yogurts based on added sugar or fat content, the FDA notes, “…given that Americans exceed recommended added sugar limits, and some yogurts are high in added sugars, FDA encourages careful consideration of whether to use the claim on products that could contribute significant amounts of added sugars to the diet.”

The claim acknowledges that yogurt should be consumed as part of an overall nutritious dietary pattern that is in line with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.

When the FDA endorses food through a QHC, it raises awareness of food’s potential benefits as part of a healthy diet and educates the consuming public.

Do you remember how all fat was considered bad for your health in the 1980s and 90s? Then, in 2003, the FDA granted a QHC allowing food manufacturers to state that eating at least 1.5 ounces of nuts per day could be linked to a reduced risk of developing cardiovascular disease. The new claim changed the dialogue around healthy fats.

The DGAs followed suit with their 2005 edition—the advice: Add nuts to your daily diet. The new yogurt claim could similarly provide Americans who are at risk for type-2 diabetes with an option to add to their balanced diet, and as such, it could accelerate yogurt as a candidate for inclusion in dietary guidance and federal nutrition programs.

For example, the new Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) rule expanding the food package (i.e., what the moms can buy) now allows up to 2 quarts of yogurt (previously only 1 quart). The new school meals rule allows schools to prioritize yogurt as a nutrient-dense, portable breakfast option that counts as a low-sodium meat alternate.

Certainly, dietitians and nutritionists want to educate shoppers about yogurt’s benefits in a landscape where consumers crave healthful choices. As grocery shoppers, we often navigate aisles filled with various choices, searching for products that not only tantalize our taste buds but also contribute positively to our health.

The yogurt category offers innovative options like low/no sugar-added varieties, high protein formulations, and convenient snacking formats. The QHC provides consumers with actionable information to inform their nutritional choices.

Retailers are also key partners in amplifying the benefits of yogurt. By featuring QHC yogurts, they empower shoppers to build eating patterns that promote wellness.

While not a cure-all, this FDA claim elevates yogurt’s status as a nutrient-rich food with emerging evidence of potential benefits like reducing type-2 diabetes risk when consumed regularly as part of an overall balanced dietary pattern.

As the food-as-medicine movement grows and healthcare costs rise, affordable, accessible, nutrient-dense foods are increasingly being viewed as preventive solutions. Recognizing yogurt’s role through this claim can help shape public policy and federal nutrition program decisions that improve American’s dietary quality and health outcomes.

Roberta Wagner is the Senior Vice President of Regulatory and Scientific Affairs for the International Dairy Foods Association. Before IDFA, Roberta served as vice president of regulatory and technical affairs for the Consumer Brands Association, formerly the Grocery Manufacturers Association, since 2019. Wagner spent 33 years in public service, including more than 25 years with FDA and nearly 8 years with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service in a variety of leadership positions.

Stephanie K. Goodwin, Ph. D., MPH, RD, is a nutrition and public health expert with a focus on national food and nutrition policy. Currently, she works for Danone North America to help bring the company’s mission, bringing health through food to as many people as possible through partnerships, public policy, and national initiatives.

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