If you have type 2 diabetes, you know it’s important to watch what you eat — and the types of drinks you consume. Drinks that are high in carbohydrates and calories can affect both your weight and your blood sugar.
“Generally speaking, you want your calories and carbs to come from whole foods, not from drinks,” says Nessie Ferguson, RD, CDE, a nutritionist at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.
The best drinks have either zero or very few calories, and deciding on a beverage isn’t really difficult. “When it comes right down to it, good beverage choices for type 2 diabetes are good choices for everyone,” she says.
Some good drinks for type 2 diabetes include:
- Fat-free or low-fat milk
- Black coffee
- Unsweetened tea (hot or iced)
- Flavored water (zero calories) or seltzer
But sugary soda is one of the worst types of drinks for type 2 diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic. The problems with soda include:
- Empty calories. Soft drinks are very high in sugar, have zero nutritional value, and are often used in place of healthy drinks such as milk.
- Cavities. The high sugar combined with the acid in soda dissolves tooth enamel, which increases the risk of cavities.
- Weight gain. Sugary sodas have about 10 teaspoons of sugar per 12-ounce can.
- Boosts risk of diabetes and risk of complications for those who have diabetes.
Some people with type 2 diabetes continue to drink alcohol, but you should be aware that any alcohol consumption may result in dangerously low blood sugar levels for up to 24 hours. That’s why it’s important to check your blood sugar often and get your doctor’s okay before you drink alcohol. People with diabetes should only consume alcohol if their diabetes is well controlled and should always wear a medical bracelet that says they have diabetes. Staying well-hydrated and only drinking alcohol on a full stomach are other ways to limit the effects drinking has on blood sugar levels.
The best alcoholic drinks for diabetes include:
- Light beer and dry wines. These alcohol drinks have fewer calories and carbohydrates than other alcoholic drinks.
- Liquor neat, on the rocks, or with a splash. By skipping the mixer, you’re eliminating any additional calories or carbohydrates and limiting the effect your drink will have on your blood sugar.
- Sugar-free mixers for mixed drinks. Try diet tonic, lemon or lime juice, club soda or seltzer. These mixers will not raise your blood sugar.
Whatever your poison, drink only in moderation. Findings show drinking moderate amounts of alcohol may lower the risk of diabetes. Mayo Clinic defines moderate alcohol use as one drink a day for women and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.
What counts as one drink?
- 12 fluid ounces of beer
- 5 fluid ounces of wine
- 1.5 fluid ounces of hard liquor
A study published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that moderate wine intake, particularly red wine, may be part of a heart healthy diet among those with well-controlled diabetes.
Here are some of the best drinks to quench your thirst, as well as a few drinks you should avoid with diabetes.
Water Helps Cut Down on Calorie Intake
Water should always be your first beverage choice when you have type 2 diabetes. “Drinking about 16 ounces (oz) of water before your meals is one of the best ways to cut down on calories,” advises Ferguson. “You should be drinking at least 8 oz, eight times a day. And don’t forget to replace water lost during exercise.” If you want to make water more flavorful, try squeezing in a little lemon or lime juice.
Milk Is One of the Best Drinks Nutritionally
Nutritionally, milk is one of the best drinks for your health. Because of the calories and carbohydrates in milk, portion control is still important. Though not free of calories, milk is considered one of the good drinks for a diabetes-friendly diet because it provides calcium and vitamin D and is a lean source of protein. If you currently drink whole or reduced-fat (2 percent) milk, it’s wise to gradually switch to low-fat (1 percent) or skim. “Don’t be afraid of milk, but limit your serving size,” says Ferguson. An 8 oz cup of skim milk comes out to 90 calories and 12 grams (g) of carbohydrates.
Avoid Sugary Soda With Type 2 Diabetes
Whether you know it as pop, tonic, or soda, this sugary beverage is among the worst drinks for folks with type 2 diabetes. One regular-size soft drink contains 140 calories and is the equivalent of downing about 10 teaspoons of sugar. “You would need to walk for a mile and a half to work off the calories,” says Ferguson, not to mention the effect it would have on your blood sugar levels. If you’re craving the fizzy stuff, a diet soda that contains 0 g of carbohydrate can be a better choice, but the best choice of all would be club soda or seltzer to get your bubbly fix.
Eat Whole Fruit Instead of Drinking Juice
Thirsting for some juice? You may be surprised to learn that it’s best to skip that cup of juice (even if it’s 100 percent juice) and reach for a piece of fruit instead. “You get more nutrition and fiber from eating whole vegetables and fruits,” says Ferguson. Another surprise? This is also what’s recommended for those who don’t have diabetes. Most of the fiber and much of the nutritional value are removed during processing, which means that, much like soda, juice can have a dramatic effect on blood sugar levels.
Black Coffee Won’t Raise Blood Sugar
Consider black coffee one of the best drinks for type 2 diabetes. It has fewer than 5 g of carbohydrates and 20 calories or less per serving, and won’t raise your blood sugar. Unless otherwise advised, up to 400 mg of caffeine from coffee and other sources each day is generally considered safe for a healthy individual. Of course, if you use cream and sugar or enjoy a mocha latte, the coffee is no longer carb-free and will affect blood sugar as a result. Instead, try adding just a little skim milk and a small amount of sugar substitute (only if needed).
Unsweetened Tea May Help Protect Against Type 2 Diabetes
Unsweetened tea is another carb-free food. And like coffee, teas are healthy drinks loaded with antioxidants, substances that eat up the free-radical molecules that can contribute to disease. Some studies suggest that both coffee and green tea may offer some protection against type 2 diabetes. A review published in June 2013 in the Diabetes & Metabolism Journal analyzed the effects of green tea and type 2 diabetes based on the results of a Japanese study involving more than 17,000 men and women ages 40 to 65. The researchers found that people who drank six cups or more of green tea or three cups of coffee every day were about one-third less likely to get type 2 diabetes.
Alcohol Can Cause Blood Sugar to Drop or Spike
Alcohol beverages aren’t the best types of drinks when you have type 2 diabetes. That’s because alcohol can interfere with some diabetes drugs and cause your blood sugar to drop or spike. “Alcohol is empty calories and can send your blood sugar levels on a roller-coaster ride,” warns Ferguson. “It can also cause you to relax and let your guard down, which could lead to other bad diet choices.” If you want to drink, check with your doctor first to make sure any alcohol is safe for you. Even with the green light, drink moderately. Only drink with meals, and avoid mixed drinks because of the added sugar they contain.