Eating 28g of yoghurt daily – around a quarter of a small pot – cuts the odds of developing the disease by almost a fifth, a study found.
The research, from the Harvard School of Public Health in the US, suggests the popular food could provide an inexpensive and easy way of boosting the odds of a healthy old age.
Type 2 diabetes, the form of the condition studied, is fuelled by obesity. It usually develops in middle-age and over time triggers disabling and deadly complications, from blindness to heart attacks and strokes.
It eats up a tenth of the NHS budget and with some 3million sufferers in the UK alone and numbers rising as the obesity epidemic bites, anything that prevents it could have a massive impact health as well as on the healthcare system.
The US researchers began by crunching together the results of three long-term studies into diet and health.
These involved almost 200,000 men and women, who were studied for up to 30 years and provided detailed information on their diet. All were free of diabetes at the start of the study but 15,156 had developed it by the end.
Analysis of their diet showed no link between the disease and their total intake of dairy products. Milk or cheese alone had no effect. However, eating yoghurt seemed to stave off the disease.
The researchers then added in data from other studies, meaning they had information on almost half a million people. This showed that one 28 helping of yoghurt a day cut the odds of type 2 diabetes by 18 per cent.
Senior researcher Frank Hu (CORR) said: ‘We found that higher intake of yoghurt is associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, whereas other dairy foods and consumption of total dairy did not show this association.
‘The consistent findings for yoghurt suggest that it can be incorporated into a healthy dietary pattern.’
Professor Hu’s research, published in the journal BMC Medicine (MUST CREDIT), follows other work that has credited yoghurt with keeping people trim.
It is thought that the bacteria in yoghurt help keep the metabolism on an even keel.
They may also replace bugs in our stomachs that would normally pump out obesity-fuelling toxins.
It is also possible that people who regularly eat yoghurt have it as a dessert and so eat fewer sweet puddings than others.
Dr Alasdair Rankin, of charity Diabetes UK, said: ‘This work adds to existing evidence that people who eat yoghurt are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, but what it doesn’t tell us is whether eating yoghurt can directly reduce risk of type 2 diabetes.
‘It could be that those eating yoghurt who took part in the study were more likely to lead a healthy lifestyle, which we know can help to reduce risk of type 2 diabetes.
‘That is why more research will be needed before we can change our advice that the best way to reduce risk of type 2 diabetes is by maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active and eating a healthy balanced diet that is low in salt, fat and sugar.’