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What Can I Drink If I Have Diabetes?

The basics

drinks for diabetics

Highlights

  1. Zero- or low-calorie drinks are best.
  2. Avoid added sugars or sweeteners.
  3. When in doubt, drink water.

Having diabetes means that you have to be aware of everything you eat or drink. Knowing the amount of carbohydrates you ingest and how they may affect your blood sugar is crucial.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends zero-calorie or low-calorie drinks. The main reason is to prevent a spike in blood sugar. Choosing the right drinks can help you avoid unpleasant side effects, manage your symptoms, and maintain a healthy weight.

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Best drinks

The 5 best drinks

Safe to drink:
  1. Water
  2. Unsweetened tea
  3. Unsweetened coffee
  4. Sugar-free fruit juice
  5. Low-fat milk

Zero- or low-calorie drinks are typically your best bet when choosing a drink. Squeeze some fresh lemon or lime juice into your drink for a refreshing, low-calorie kick. Whether you’re at home or at a restaurant, here are the most diabetes-friendly beverage options.

1. Water

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 glucose through urine. Women should drink approximately 8 glasses of water each day, while men should drink about 10 glasses.

If plain water doesn’t appeal to you, create some variety by:

  • adding slices of lemon, lime, or orange
  • adding sprigs of flavourful herbs, such as mint, basil, or lemon balm
  • crushing a couple of fresh or frozen raspberries into your drink

2. Tea

Research has shown that green tea has a positive effect on your general health. It can also help reduce your blood pressure and lower your LDL cholesterol levels.

Some research suggests that drinking up to six cups a day may lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. However, more research is needed.

Whether you choose green, black, or herbal tea, you should avoid sweeteners. For a refreshing taste, make your own iced tea using a chilled fragrant tea, such as rooibos, and add a few slices of lemon. If you don’t mind caffeine, Earl Grey and jasmine green tea are also great options.

[I enjoy] tea with saccharin-based sweetener. Of course, the best diabetes-friendly drink is good old water.
– Julinda Adams, living with diabetes

3. Coffee

A 2012 study found that drinking coffee might help lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Researchers found that the level of risk dropped even lower for people who drank two to three cups per day. This also held true for people who drank four or more cups per day. This applied to both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffees, so if caffeine makes you jittery, feel free to grab a cup of decaf.

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.

4. Fruit juice and vegetable juice

Opt for something that’s sugar-free and 100 percent juice. If you’re using a meal plan, make sure you account for the juice you choose. On average, four ounces has about 15 grams of carbohydrates and about 60 calories.

You can also try vegetable juice alternatives. Blend a mix of green leafy vegetables, celery, or cucumbers with a handful of berries for a flavorful supply of vitamins and minerals.

5. Low-fat milk

Dairy products contain helpful minerals, but they add carbohydrates to your diet. Always choose unsweetened, low-fat, or skim versions of your preferred milk. You should limit yourself to one or two glasses a day. You can also try dairy-free, low-sugar options, such as fortified nut or coconut milk. Be aware that soy and rice milk contain carbohydrates.

[I drink] Starbucks iced coffee with sugar-free cinnamon dolce and a splash of non-fat milk.
– Kim Champagne, living with diabetes
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Worst drinks

The 5 worst drinks

Drinks to avoid
  1. Regular soda
  2. Energy drinks
  3. Diet soda
  4. Sweetened fruit juices
  5. Alcohol

Avoid sugary drinks whenever possible. Not only can they raise your blood sugar levels, they can also account for a significant portion of your daily recommended caloric intake.

1. Regular soda

Soda takes the top spot on the ADA’s list of drinks to avoid. On average, one can has a whopping 40 grams of carbohydrates and 150 calories. 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 fruit-infused water or tea.

2. Energy drinks

Energy drinks are also high in both caffeine and carbohydrates. Research has shown that energy drinks not only spike your blood sugar, but may also cause insulin resistance. This can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes.

Too much caffeine can cause nervousness, increase your blood pressure, and lead to insomnia. All of these can affect your general levels of health.

3. Diet soda

Artificial sweeteners, such as those found in diet soda, may negatively affect the bacteria in your gut. In turn, this may increase insulin resistance, which can cause or worsen diabetes. One study linked increased diet soda intake with a risk of metabolic syndrome. This syndrome refers to a cluster of conditions, including:

  • high blood pressure
  • high levels of cholesterol
  • high levels of triglycerides
  • increased weight gain
  • high blood sugar levels

4. Sweetened fruit juices

Although fruit juice is fine in moderation, sweetened fruit juices can add a high amount of carbohydrates to your diet. This can wreak havoc on your blood sugar and increase your risk of 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. You can also consider adding a splash or two of your favorite juice to sparkling water.

5. Alcoholic beverages

If you have high blood pressure or nerve damage from your diabetes, drinking alcohol in excess may worsen these conditions. You should check with your doctor to determine whether alcoholic beverages are safe for you to drink.

One 2012 study found that men who drank alcoholic beverages had an increased risk for type 2 diabetes. But women who drank wine had a reduced risk for type 2 diabetes. More research is needed to understand the potential relationship between diabetes risk and alcohol consumption.

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Takeaway

The bottom line

When it comes to selecting a drink, keep it simple. Choose water whenever possible. Unsweetened tea and skim milk are also good options, and natural juices are generally fine in moderation. If you’re craving a little sweetness in your drinks, try adding natural sources like fragrant herbs, slices of citrus fruit, or a couple of crushed berries.

Keep reading: 10 delicious diabetic-friendly smoothies »

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