Diabetic-friendly Recipe: Homemade Yogurt Cheese

Yogurt is a healthy food for people who have type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes. It's a cultured milk product made by adding "good" bacteria to milk, skim milk, and/or cream.

People used to have to make their own yogurt—a time consuming task of fermenting milk with bacteria in an electric yogurt maker or in custard cups in a pan of 110°F water for up to eight hours. Fortunately, today yogurt is widely available at grocery stores and supermarkets.

When buying yogurt, read the labels carefully. This is especially important for people with diabetes. You can ask your registered dietitian for help on how to read food labels. 

Below, we give you some tips on what to look for when buying yogurt.

  • Blended yogurt (also called Swiss pudding or custard-style yogurt): Blended yogurt contains pureed fruit or other flavoring, as well as starch or gelatin to give the mixture body.
  • Certified organic yogurt: Organic yogurt is made from milk produced by cows raised under strict organic standards, including an organic diet, no use of antibiotics or growth hormones, and a healthy growth environment.
  • Contains active yogurt cultures: This means that the bacterial cultures are still present in the yogurt because it has not been heat-treated. Read the nutrition label carefully to make sure it has not been stabilized with starch or gelatin.
  • Heat-treated yogurt: Some yogurt products have been heated to kill the bacterial cultures, thereby extending the shelf-life of these products.
  • Low-fat yogurt: This type of yogurt contains the same amount of butterfat as the low-fat milk from which they are made—it can be between 0.5% to 2% butterfat.
  • Made with active cultures: The yogurt was probably heat-treated, thereby killing the active cultures that produced it.
  • Non-fat yogurt or fat-free yogurt: These must contain less than 0.5% butterfat. If the label also says "lite" or "light," it may indicate that the yogurt has been sweetened with aspartame rather than a natural sweetener.
  • Other ingredients sometimes added to yogurt: Other dairy products, such as non-fat dry milk solids; sweeteners, such as sugar, honey, and aspartame; colorings; and stabilizers, such as starch, gelatin, or pectin, are sometimes used in yogurt.
  • Sundae-style yogurt: This type of yogurt has fruit at the bottom of the container, and it can be topped with plain or flavored yogurt.
  • Whole milk yogurt: To be classified as whole milk yogurt, the yogurt must contain 3.25% to 4% butterfat—the same as whole milk.

Benefits of Eating Yogurt
Yogurt has many health benefits. It improves our immune system, thereby helping to reduce the risk of some diseases. It's also an excellent source of calcium, is rich in protein (8 g per cup), and is good for your skin. Some types of yogurt even contain as much potassium as a banana.

Fun Facts: What Yogurt Is Called in Other Countries

  • Armenia = mazun
  • Chile = skuta
  • Finland = plimae
  • France = yoghourt
  • Georgia = kefir
  • Greece = oxygala
  • India = dahi
  • Iran = mast
  • Norway = kaelder milk
  • Siberia = koumiss
  • Sicily = mezzoradu
  • Sweden = filmjolk
  • Turkey = yogurt

Cooking with Yogurt
When cooking with yogurt, draining off the whey of non-fat yogurt improves its flavor. As with other high-protein, high-acid foods, spare the heat. Use low cooking temperatures and short heating periods for best results. Whenever possible, add the yogurt at the end of the cooking period, just in time to let the yogurt mixture come up to serving temperature. If the yogurt is added at the start of the cooking period, you can avoid separation or curdling by stirring a stabilizing mixture of flour or cornstarch blended with a little water into the yogurt.

To keep a thick consistency, it helps to not stir yogurt into other ingredients—instead, fold the yogurt into the mixture. When substituting buttermilk with yogurt, thin the yogurt with a little water or milk to the right consistency. When using yogurt for baking, add 1/2 teaspoon baking soda for each cup of yogurt used.

Use plain low-fat yogurt as a substitute for sour cream: You'll save 280 calories per cup. Yogurt can also be used as a partial substitute for mayonnaise (use 50% yogurt and 50% mayonnaise).

Yogurt becomes sharper with age. Stored at a refrigerator temperature of 35°F to 45°F, yogurt will keep fresh for up to two weeks. The fresher when used, the better the flavor and consistency. Making yogurt cheese is a good way to use aged yogurt.

Making Your Own Yogurt Cheese
Not really a true cheese, yogurt cheese is merely thickened yogurt with the whey drained away. it makes a wonderful substitute for fresh cheeses, such as cream cheese.

When you add minced fresh herbs, you get a great low-fat substitute for French Boursin cheese. You can buy a yogurt cheese drainer at a specialty cookware store, or you can use a coffee filter or a double thickness of cheesecloth inside a fine sieve as well.

You'll want to experiment with different brands of yogurt until you find one that you like. Be sure the yogurt you use does not contain any added gelatin or other thickeners.

The following recipe is reprinted from The Joslin Diabetes Gourmet Cookbook (Bantam Books) and The Joslin Diabetes Quick and Easy Cookbook (Fireside: Simon & Schuster).

Yogurt Cheese
Yields: 1 cup

What You Need

  • 2 cups plain low-fat or non-fat yogurt

What You Do

  1. Line a sieve with a coffee filter or cheesecloth. Suspend the sieve over a deep bowl. Place the yogurt in the filter and refrigerate for several hours or overnight to allow the whey to drain out. When the yogurt has the consistency of a soft cream cheese, scrape the yogurt away from the filter and transfer it to a plastic container.
  2. Discard the liquid in the bowl and refrigerate the yogurt cheese. Use within 1 week, discarding any accumulated liquid before using.

Nutrition Information
Per 1 tablespoon serving made with low-fat yogurt:

  • 12 calories (19% calories from fat)
  • 1 g protein
  • <1 g total fat (0.1 g saturated fat)
  • 1 g carbohydrates
  • 0 dietary fiber
  • 1 mg cholesterol
  • 10 mg sodium
  • Diabetic exchanges: FREE

Per 1 tablespoon serving made with non-fat yogurt:

  • 11 calories (2% calories from fat)
  • 2 g protein
  • 0 total fat (0 saturated fat)
  • 1 g carbohydrates
  • 0 dietary fiber
  • 0 cholesterol
  • 10 mg sodium
  • Diabetic exchanges: FREE

Incoporating more yogurt into your diet, including yogurt cheese, is a healthy option for people with type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes.

Updated on: April 14, 2011