If you have diabetes, doctors may recommend drinks that have no calories or a low number of calories, such as milk alternatives and sugar-free lemonade.

Having diabetes means you have to be aware of everything you eat or drink. It’s crucial to know the number of carbohydrates you consume and how they may affect your blood sugar.

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 such as blood sugar spikes
  • manage your symptoms
  • maintain a healthy weight

Better beverage choices:

  • seltzer water
  • unsweetened tea
  • herbal tea
  • unsweetened coffee
  • vegetable juice
  • low fat milk
  • milk alternatives
  • green smoothies
  • sugar-free lemonade
  • kombucha
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Zero-calorie or low calorie drinks are typically your best bet when choosing something to quench your thirst. You can 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 you’ll have to factor any dairy-based drinks into your total carbohydrate allowance for the day.

Dairy beverages are also not considered a low sugar option.

Whether you’re at home or at a restaurant, here are the most diabetes-friendly beverage options.

1. 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. Drinking carbonated water is a great way to stay hydrated and support healthy blood sugar levels.

There are many flavors and varieties to choose from. You can also try adding some fresh fruit and herbs to give your drink a delicious twist.

2. Tea

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

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

Whether you choose green, black, white, or oolong tea, avoid teas with added sugars. For a refreshing taste, you can make your own iced tea and add a few slices of lemon.

3. Herbal tea

Herbal tea varieties such as chamomile, hibiscus, ginger, and peppermint tea are all excellent options for people with diabetes.

Herbal tea is not only free of carbs, calories, and sugar but also rich in disease-fighting antioxidant compounds, including carotenoids, flavonoids, and phenolic acids.

4. Unsweetened coffee

Drinking coffee might help lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by improving sugar metabolism over time, according to a 2018 review of studies.

As with tea, it’s important that your coffee remain unsweetened. Adding milk, cream, flavored syrups, or sugar to your coffee increases the overall calorie count and may affect your blood sugar levels.

Many no-calorie or low calorie sweeteners are available, if you choose to use them.

Of course, you’ll also want to keep in mind that even unsweetened coffee or tea can raise your blood sugar because of the caffeine. According to a 2019 review of studies, you may experience a blood sugar spike within 1–3 hours of drinking unsweetened coffee.

You can discuss this with your healthcare team or dietitian to determine whether the amount of caffeine in your coffee or tea is worth factoring into your meal planning or diabetes care plan.

5. Vegetable juice

While most 100% fruit juices are high in sugar, you may want to try tomato juice or a vegetable juice alternative.

You can make your own blend of green leafy vegetables, celery, or cucumbers with a handful of berries for a flavorful source of vitamins and minerals. But remember to count the berries as part of your carbohydrate total for the day.

6. Milk

Milk contains important vitamins and minerals, but it also adds carbohydrates to your diet.

Research has found that the fat content of milk has little impact on blood sugar levels. However, whole milk may actually slow down digestion and absorption, which means it could lower the risk of a quick rise in blood sugar compared to lower fat milks. Of course, the protein content of milk in general often counteracts any sudden blood sugar spike.

Whether you choose whole milk or a lower fat or nonfat version, you may want to consume it only in moderation and not drink more than two to three 8-ounce glasses per day.

You can learn more here about how milk in general can affect and fit into your diabetes care planning.

7. Milk alternatives

Milk alternatives such as almond, soy, and coconut milk are dairy-free and low in carbs.

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

Be aware that oat, rice, and soy milks contain carbohydrates, and many nut milks contain a minimal amount of protein. Make sure to check the packaging carefully to pick the right product for you.

8. Green smoothie

Green smoothies can be an excellent way to squeeze some extra fiber and nutrients into your diet while staying hydrated.

You can use green vegetables such as spinach, kale, and celery along with some protein powder and a bit of fruit to make a healthy homemade smoothie.

Fruits contain carbohydrates, so remember to count them toward your daily carb intake.

9. 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.

10. 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 your gut. Probiotics may help improve blood sugar levels for people with type 2 diabetes, but more research is needed to better understand how much of them to take and for how long.

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, so it’s a great choice on a low carb diet.

You can check nutrition labels to avoid choosing kombucha products with added sugars. Many do contain added sugar, which can raise your blood sugar levels.

Drinks to avoid

  • regular soda
  • energy drinks that contain sugar
  • fruit juices
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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 calorie intake.

Sugary drinks add little, if any, nutritional value to your diet. But fruit juices do provide some nutrients.

1. Regular soda

Soda takes the top spot on the list of drinks to avoid. On average, 1 can has a whopping 40 grams of sugar and 150 calories, according to 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 small 2018 study suggests that energy drinks can cause a spike in blood sugar.

Too much caffeine can also:

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

All of these changes can affect your overall health.

3. Sweetened or unsweetened fruit juices

Although 100% fruit juice is fine in moderation and provides nutrients such as vitamin C, all fruit juices can add a large amount of carbohydrates to your diet, and they consist of 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% pure and contains no added sugars.

Also, limit your portion size to 4 ounces (oz), or 1/2 cup, which will reduce your sugar intake to about 3.75 teaspoons (15 grams).

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

Drinks to be aware of

  • diet soda
  • alcoholic beverages
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1. Diet soda

A 2015 study linked increased diet soda intake with a risk for metabolic syndrome. This syndrome is a cluster of conditions that includes:

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 small 2016 study also found that people who drank diet sodas had increased blood sugar levels and waist circumference.

Further, the authors stated that people 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.

But 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 team to determine whether alcoholic beverages are safe for you to drink.

Alcohol can cause a drop in blood sugar in the several hours after you consume it. This is especially important if you use insulin or other medications that can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

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

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 alcohol consumption (1–2 alcoholic drinks per month) was actually linked to a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Some studies have suggested that red wine can have a beneficial effect on diabetes, but the evidence remains uncertain.

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

The ADA recommends that people with diabetes limit alcohol consumption to 1 drink or less per day for women and 2 drinks or less per day for men. One drink is considered 5 oz (150 milliliters [mL]), of wine, 1.5 oz (45 mL) of distilled spirits, or 12 oz (355 mL) of 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.

Unsweetened tea and coffee and all sugar-free beverages are good options. Natural juices and milk are generally fine in moderation.

If you’re craving a little sweetness in your drinks, try adding natural sources such as:

  • fragrant herbs
  • slices of citrus fruit
  • a couple of crushed berries

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