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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
  • manage your symptoms
  • maintain a healthy weight

Safe to drink:

  1. Water
  2. Unsweetened tea
  3. Unsweetened coffee
  4. Tomato or V-8 juice
  5. Sugar-free sports drinks
  6. Sugar-free carbonated beverages

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.

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

Reduced-fat dairy is a nutritious choice. However, it does contain 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 men drink about 13 cups (3.08 l) of day and women drink about 9 cups (2.13 l).

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. 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 harmful LDL cholesterol levels.

Some research suggests that drinking up to 6 cups (1.42 l) 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 those with added sugars. 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.

You can find a variety of tea options online.

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 2 to 3 cups per day. This also held true for people who drank 4 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 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.

4. Vegetable juice

While most 100% fruit juice is 100% 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.

5. Low-fat milk

Dairy products should be included in your diet each day.

They contain important vitamins and minerals, but they do add carbohydrates to your diet. Always choose unsweetened, low-fat, or skim versions of your preferred milk.

You should limit yourself to two to three eight-ounce 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, so check the packaging.

Also, many dairy milk alternatives lack vitamin D and calcium unless they’re fortified. Many nut milk varieties contain a minimal amount of protein.

Drinks to avoid

  1. regular soda
  2. energy drinks that contain sugar
  3. fruit juices

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.

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 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 sugar free fruit-infused water or tea.

2. Energy drinks

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

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% fruit juice is fine in moderation, 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.

Fruit flavored drinks or punches may contain as much sugar as a full-calorie soda.

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, limiting your portion size to 4 ounces (0.12 l), 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.

Drinks to be aware of

  • Diet soda
  • Alcoholic beverages

1. Diet soda

According to a 2014 animal study in mice, artificial sweeteners, such as those found in diet soda, have been accused of negatively affecting the bacteria in your gut.

Studies have theorized that this may increase insulin resistance, which can cause or worsen diabetes.

One 2015 animal study in mice found that native gut bacteria may determine the response to a sugar substitute and therefore each animal may respond differently.

More research is urgently needed as most of the studies to date have used mice or small numbers of human subjects.

A 2009 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 provider 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 2012 study found that men who drank alcoholic beverages had an increased risk for type 2 diabetes.

However, the results for women varied depending on consumption.

High intakes showed an increased risk for prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, while a moderate intake of wine was associated with a reduced risk for 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.

Moderate consumption of red wine as part of a healthy diet didn’t promote weight gain and didn’t increase any harmful metabolic effects in persons with type 2 diabetes.

Guidelines recommend that those with diabetes limit consumption to 1 drink or less per day for women and 2 drinks or less per day for men. One drink is considered 5 ounces (0.15 l) of wine, 1 1/2 ounces (.04 l) 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 skim 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

“[I enjoy] tea with artificial sweetener. Of course, the best diabetes-friendly drink is good old water.”
— Julinda Adams, living with diabetes

“[I drink] Starbucks iced coffee with sugar-free cinnamon dolce and a splash of fat-free milk.”
— Kim Champagne, living with diabetes