If you are living with diabetes, you are more than likely aware that you need to take into consideration the nutritional information on everything you eat or drink, including the number of carbohydrates you consume and how they may affect your blood sugar levels.
The American Diabetes Association recommends zero-calorie or low-calorie drinks in order to prevent blood sugar spikes. Your healthcare team may assist you in recommending tasty, thirst-quenching beverages without calories, such as water or tea, and those with a low number of calories, including milk alternatives or sugar-free lemonade.
Choosing the right drinks can help you:
- Avoid unpleasant side effects like blood sugar spikes
- Manage your symptoms
- Maintain a healthy weight
Zero- or low-calorie drinks are typically your best bet when choosing something to quench your thirst. Keep in mind, though, that even low-sugar options, such as vegetable juice, should be consumed in moderation.
Whether you’re at home or at a restaurant, you don’t have to sacrifice flavorful beverages in order to lower your HbA1c and to keep blood sugar levels happy.
Continue reading to uncover the most diabetes-friendly beverage options you can enjoy without the guilt.
The 11 Best Drinks You Can Enjoy With Diabetes
When it comes to hydration, water is the best option for people with diabetes. That’s because it won’t raise your blood sugar levels. High blood sugar levels can cause dehydration. Drinking enough water can help your body eliminate excess sugar through urine, and even allows glucose to slide into cells more easily, to be used as energy! The Institute Of Medicine recommends adult men drink about 13 cups (3.08 liters) and women drink about 9 cups (2.13 liters).
If plain water doesn’t appeal to you, create some delicious variety by:
- Adding slices of lemon, lime, or orange for a low-calorie flavor kick
- Adding sprigs of flavorful herbs, such as mint, basil, or lemon balm
- Crushing a couple of fresh or frozen raspberries into your drink
2. Seltzer Water:
Seltzer water is a fizzy, bubbly, sugar-free alternative to other carbonated beverages, such as soda. Like regular water, seltzer water is free of calories, carbs, and sugar. Carbonated water is a great way to stay hydrated and support healthy blood sugar levels, while also helping you wean off sugary carbonated drinks. There are many different flavors and varieties to choose from, or you can try adding some fresh fruit and herbs to give your drink a delicious twist!
Recent research has shown that tea of many varieties, such as green tea, has a positive effect on your general health. A large 2021 study of more than 500,000 people suggests that daily consumption of green tea may actually lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. More research on this is needed, however. Whether you choose green, black, white, or oolong tea, your best bet is to avoid those with added sugars. For a refreshing taste, why not make your own iced tea and add a few slices of lemon!
4. Herbal Tea:
Herbal tea varieties like chamomile, hibiscus, ginger, and peppermint tea are all excellent options for people with diabetes. Not only is herbal tea free of carbs, calories, and sugar, but it’s also rich in disease-fighting antioxidant compounds, including carotenoids, flavonoids, and phenolic acids.
Drinking coffee may have gotten a bad rap, but a 2019 research study has shown that coffee consumption might actually help lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by improving sugar metabolism. As with tea, it’s important that your coffee remains unsweetened. Adding milk, cream, or sugar to your coffee increases the overall calorie count and may affect your blood sugar levels. Many no- or low-calorie sweeteners, like Stevia, are available if you choose to use them in moderation.
It is important to remember, however, that drinking too much caffeine found in coffee can have adverse health effects, such as:
- Blood pressure increase
If caffeine affects you in these ways, or, if you find that the extra caffeine raises your blood sugar levels, try decaffeinated coffee!
6. Vegetable Juice:
While most 100 percent fruit juices are 100 percent sugar, tomato or a vegetable juice alternative may be safe to try. To ensure you are getting the most nutritional value, you can make your own blend of vegetable juice! Blend green leafy vegetables, celery, or cucumbers together with a handful of berries for a flavorful supply of vitamins and minerals. Remember to count the berries as part of your carbohydrate total for the day, and, when in doubt, test your blood sugar after consuming to see how the juice affected your levels.
7. Low-Fat Milk:
Milk contains important vitamins and minerals, but it does add carbohydrates to your meal plan. Always choose unsweetened, low-fat, or skim versions of your preferred milk and stick to no more than two to three 8-ounce glasses a day. Reduced-fat dairy contains the naturally occurring milk sugar, lactose, so this beverage must be considered in your total carbohydrate allowance for the day. Dairy options are also not considered a low-sugar beverage. Again, if you have any doubts, test your blood sugar after consuming to see how milk affects your levels.
Milk alternatives, like almond, oat, rice, soy, rice, or coconut milk are dairy-free and lower in carbohydrates than animal-based milk. They are also sometimes fortified with important nutrients like calcium and Vitamin D, both of which play a key role in bone health. Most importantly, they’re delicious! Be aware, however, that soy and rice milk do contain carbohydrates, and many nut milks contain only a minimal amount of protein, so check the packaging carefully to pick the right product for you.
9. Green Smoothie:
Green smoothies can be an excellent way to squeeze some extra fiber and nutrients into your diet while staying hydrated. Try making your own healthy smoothie using green vegetables like spinach, kale, or celery. Add some protein powder and a bit of low-sugar fruit, like berries, to keep you satiated. Keep in mind, however, that fruits do contain carbohydrates, so remember to count them toward your daily carb intake.
10. Sugar-Free Lemonade:
Love lemonade? Who doesn’t! Unfortunately, because traditional lemonade is full of sugar, you may have avoided this treat for fear of raising your blood sugar levels. Not any more! Now you can easily whip up your own sugar-free lemonade at home using just a few simple ingredients for a refreshing and delicious low-carb beverage.
Combine sparkling water with a bit of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Top it off with some ice and your choice of sugar-free sweetener, such as Stevia. It tastes amazing!
Kombucha is a fermented beverage typically made from black or green tea. It’s a great source of probiotics, which are a type of beneficial bacteria found in the gut that have been well studied for their ability to improve blood sugar control for people with type 2 diabetes. Although the exact nutritional content can vary depending on the specific type, brand, and flavor, a 1-cup serving of Kombucha typically contains about 7 grams (g) of carbohydrates, making it a great choice on a low-carb meal plan.
3 Drinks To Avoid With Diabetes
It is in your best interest to try to avoid sugary drinks whenever possible. Not only can they raise your blood sugar levels, but they can also account for a significant portion of your daily recommended caloric intake. Sugary drinks add little if any nutritional value to your meal plan, with the exception of fruit juice.
Soda takes the top spot on the list of drinks to try to avoid. On average, one can of soda has a whopping 40 g of sugar and 150 calories, notes the American Diabetes Association. This sugary drink has also been linked to weight gain and tooth decay, so it’s best to leave it on the store shelf. Instead, reach for sugar-free, fruit-infused seltzer water as a bubbly substitute to help you wean off soda.
Energy drinks can be high in both caffeine and carbohydrates. A recent study showed that not only do energy drinks cause spikes in blood sugar, they also can affect your overall health in other ways.
Too much caffeine in energy drinks can:
- Cause nervousness
- Increase your blood pressure
- Lead to insomnia
3. Sweetened or Unsweetened Fruit Juices
Although 100 percent fruit juice is fine in moderation, and is a source of nutrients like Vitamin C, all fruit juices can add a high amount of carbohydrates to your nutritional plan and are pure fructose (natural fruit sugar). This combination can wreak havoc on your blood sugar and increase your risk for weight gain. If you have a fruit juice craving that won’t fade, be sure you pick up a juice that’s 100 percent pure and contains no added sugars. Also, limit your portion size to 4 ounces (0.12 liters), which will reduce your sugar intake to only 3.6 teaspoons (15 g).
Here’s another tip: why not consider adding a splash or two of your favorite juice to sparkling water instead? This will aid in diluting the sugar in the juice even more, while still being thirst-quenching and tasty!
Exercise Caution With These Drinks
1. Diet Soda:
A 2015 study linked increased diet soda intake with a risk for metabolic syndrome. This syndrome refers to a cluster of conditions, including:
- High blood pressure
- High levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol
- High levels of triglycerides
- Increased weight gain
- High blood sugar levels
Upon further analysis, the study participants who were overweight or obese, which are risk factors for metabolic syndrome, had likely been swapping no-calorie soda from the full-sugar versions. They likely took this step to cut their calorie intake. This was an association, but it wasn’t considered cause and effect.
Other research has revealed those who drink diet sodas had increased blood sugar levels and waist circumference. However, these studies did not control for meals or physical activity or other variables before each round of testing was done. Further, the studies indicated that individuals with higher insulin levels at the beginning of the study may have already had metabolic issues not related to their intake of sugar-free sodas.
For most people living with diabetes, it can be assumed that sugar-free sodas are safe in moderation. Try to resist the urge to pair something sweet or high in calories with that no-calorie beverage, however. No, the diet beverage doesn’t cancel out the calories in that candy bar!
ADA guidelines recommend that those with diabetes limit consumption to one drink or less per day for women and two drinks or less per day for men. One drink is considered 5 ounces (0.15 liters) of wine, 1 1/2 ounces (.04 liters) of distilled spirits, or a 12-ounce beer.
Studies regarding drinking alcohol with diabetes are uncertain, at best. For instance, in a 2016 study of more than 383,000 people, found that alcohol intake was associated with a higher risk of prediabetes. However, mild to moderate consumption of alcohol was actually linked to a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Clearly, more research is needed to understand the potential relationship between diabetes risk and alcohol consumption.
Distilled alcohols, like vodka, whiskey, and rum, do not have carbohydrates. The distilling process removes the carbohydrate naturally. Some flavor-infused distilled alcohols, like fruit-flavored vodka, however, are typically mixed with sugar-containing sodas, juices, or flavorings. These can sneakily raise blood sugars. Therefore, pairing a distilled alcohol with a low-carb, low-calorie drink generally shouldn’t have an adverse effect on your blood sugar levels. As always, it is wise practice to check with your healthcare team to determine whether alcoholic beverages are safe for you to drink.
There are other factors to consider, however, if you decide to imbibe:
- If you have high blood pressure or nerve damage from your diabetes, drinking alcohol may worsen these conditions.
- Alcohol can cause a drop in blood sugar during the next several hours after ingestion. This is especially important for those who take medications that can cause hypoglycemia or low blood sugars.
- Drinking alcohol lowers your inhibitions, so, you may be tempted to go off your meal plan and reach for an unhealthy snack or dessert while under the influence.
What about red wine? Red wine may be a good choice as it has some antioxidant properties for heart health and can be lower in carbohydrates than other sweeter tasting wines with higher sugar content. The cost/benefits of red wine on diabetes still remain uncertain, however.
So, what’s the bottomline? When it comes to selecting a drink, keep it simple. Choose water whenever possible. Unsweetened tea and all sugar-free beverages are also good options. If you’re craving a little sweetness in your drinks, try adding natural sources, like berries or herbs. Natural juices and low fat milk are generally fine in moderation, but be mindful of diet sodas and alcohol consumption. With a little bit of forethought and creativity, you can enjoy deliciously satisfying drinks without the worry!
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