Having diabetes means that you have to be aware of everything you eat or drink. Knowing the number of carbohydrates that 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 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. Squeeze some fresh lemon or lime juice into your drink for a refreshing, low-calorie kick.

Keep in mind that even low sugar options, such as vegetable juice, should be consumed in moderation.

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.

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. The Institute of Medicine recommends adult men drink about 13 cups (3.08 liters) of day and women drink about 9 cups (2.13 liters).

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

  • adding slices of lemon, lime, or orange
  • 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 great fizzy, 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.

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.

3. Tea

Research has shown that green tea has a positive effect on your general health.

A large 2021 cohort study of more than a half million people suggests that daily consumption of green tea may lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. However, more research is needed.

Whether you choose green, black, white, or oolong tea, avoid those with added sugars. For a refreshing taste, 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.

5. Unsweetened coffee

Drinking coffee might help lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by improving sugar metabolism, according to a 2019 review of studies.

As with tea, it’s important that your coffee remain 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 are available if you choose to use them.

6. Vegetable juice

While most 100 percent fruit juice is 100 percent sugar, you can try tomato juice or a vegetable juice alternative.

Make your own blend of green leafy vegetables, celery, or cucumbers 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.

7. Low fat milk

Milk contains important vitamins and minerals, but it does add carbohydrates to your diet. 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.

8. Milk alternatives

Milk alternatives like almond, oat, rice, soy, rice, or coconut milk are dairy-free and low in carbs.

They are also sometimes fortified with important nutrients like calcium and vitamin D, both of which play a key role in bone health.

Be aware that soy and rice milk contain carbohydrates, and many nut milks contain 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 using green vegetables like spinach, kale, or celery and pair with some protein powder and a bit of fruit for a healthy, homemade smoothie.

Keep in mind that fruits contain carbohydrates, so remember to count them toward your daily carb intake.

10. Sugar-free lemonade

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.

To get started, 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.

11. Kombucha

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 of carbs, making it a great choice on a low carb diet.

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 diet. However, fruit juices do provide some nutrients.

1. Regular soda

Soda takes the top spot on the list of drinks to avoid. On average, one can has a whopping 40 grams of sugar and 150 calories, notes the ADA.

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 water or tea.

2. Energy drinks

Energy drinks can be high in both caffeine and carbohydrates. A 2018 study showed that energy drinks can cause a spike in blood sugar.

Too much caffeine can:

  • cause nervousness
  • increase your blood pressure
  • lead to insomnia

All of these can affect your overall health.

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 diet and are pure (natural) 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 grams).

You might consider adding a splash or two of your favorite juice to sparkling water instead.

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:

Upon further analysis, the study participants who had overweight or obesity, which are risk factors for metabolic syndrome, had likely been swapping no-calorie soda for 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.

A 2016 study seemed to show that those drinking diet sodas had increased blood sugar levels and waist circumference.

However, this study did not control for meals or physical activity or other variables before each round of testing was done.

Further, the authors stated 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, sugar-free sodas are safe in moderation.

Resist the urge to pair something sweet or high in calories with that no-calorie beverage. No, the diet beverage doesn’t cancel out the calories in a candy bar!

2. Alcoholic beverages

If you have high blood pressure or nerve damage from your diabetes, drinking alcohol may worsen these conditions.

You should check with your healthcare professional to determine whether alcoholic beverages are safe for you to drink.

Alcohol can cause a drop in blood sugar during the next several hours after ingestion. This is especially important for those who take insulin or other medications that can cause hypoglycemia or low blood sugars.

Some distilled spirits are typically mixed with sugar-containing sodas or juices which can raise blood sugars.

One 2016 study in 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.

Some studies have shown a beneficial effect of red wine on diabetes, though the evidence remains uncertain.

If you’re planning to drink an alcoholic beverage, red wine may be a good choice as it has some antioxidant properties and can be lower in carbohydrates. Sweeter tasting wines do have more sugar content.

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.

More research is needed to understand the potential relationship between diabetes risk and alcohol consumption.

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. Natural juices and low fat milk 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
  • a couple of crushed berries

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