Drinks that contain sugar can lead to sugar spikes or sudden high levels of glucose in the blood. These spikes can be dangerous for people with diabetes.
This article looks at drinks that are healthful for people with diabetes and drinks they are best to avoid. It also offers some recipes for tasty drinks to make at home.
The best drinks
The following drinks are good choices for people with diabetes.
Water has health benefits for everyone, including people with diabetes.
The best drink for health is water. Proper hydration influences physical and mental health and every system in the body needs water.
A person can also mistake signs of thirst for hunger or a craving for sweets. This leads some people to reach for soft drinks and juices. If this craving occurs, it is best to drink a glass of water first and then see how the body reacts.
Learn more here about the benefits of drinking water.
Some people choose juices or sugar-sweetened beverages because they find the flavor of water boring or bland. This does not have to be the case, however.
People can add flavor by mixing water with the juice from citrus fruits, such as lime and lemon or a splash of 100 percent cranberry juice. Infusing water with whole fruits like berries can add some healthful flavor as well.
One study suggests that adding aloe vera pulp to water may benefit people with diabetes. Infused waters are flavorful and healthful.
It can be a good idea to make a pitcher of infused water and keep it on hand.
Herbal teas or infusions are another way to flavor water. Boiling the leaves of certain plants in water can add both flavor and health benefits.
Licorice root, for example, provides a subtly sweet flavor without raising blood sugar levels.
An animal study from 2007 found that glucose levels fell in rats with diabetes after they consumed licorice extract. This suggests that licorice may have the potential to help reduce blood sugar in people with diabetes.
A variety of herbal teas are available for purchase online.
Sometimes a person's body wants more than just water. Milk may be a good option. Cow milk, soy milk, rice milk, or nut milk can provide calories, vitamins, and minerals. However, it is important to choose unsweetened varieties.
Cow, rice, and soy milk will add carbohydrate to a person's diet, and so they must account for this in their meal planning.
Most unsweetened nut milk has little carbohydrates, but a person with diabetes must be sure to check the nutrition facts of their milk of choice and be mindful of how many carbs are in one serving. This information is essential to know when managing blood sugar.
Pure fruit juice in moderation
Fresh juice with no added sugar is good in moderation, but whole fruits provide more nutrition.
Pure fruit juices are appropriate, but since fruit juice delivers the sugar from the fruit but not necessarily the fiber as well, people with diabetes should consume these types of drinks in small amounts.
They will also need to account for any juices in a meal plan. For example, one 248-gram (g) cup of fresh, unprocessed orange juice contains nearly 26 g of carbohydrate, of which almost 21 g is sugar.
Portion control is a key factor to managing carbohydrate intake when drinking juice with a meal. Drinking juice alone can lead to a blood sugar spike, but consuming it with other foods, particularly protein or a healthful fat can help to prevent this.
Eating fruit can be a good way to quench thirst, and it delivers more nutritional benefit than juice.
Coffee and tea in moderation
There is a debate about coffee intake for people with diabetes.
In 2004, scientists who carried out a review concluded that coffee consumption may have undesired short-term effects, yet long-term coffee drinking shows some benefits.
However, in 2017, other researchers concluded that "five of the seven studies suggest caffeine intake increases blood glucose levels and prolongs the period of high blood glucose levels."
Further research is needed to find out exactly how caffeine affects blood sugar levels.
In addition, barista coffees might also contain flavored creamers and syrups that contain high levels of sugar.
Things to look out for
Many drinks contain high levels of sugars and carbohydrates. Food labels and nutritional facts can give valuable information about what they contain. Labels should state the serving size and carbohydrate content of any drink.
People with diabetes have different needs, so there are no exact dietary rules, but the following tips may help control blood sugar:
- Consume a balanced diet and manage the intake of carbohydrate from food and drinks.
- Keep carbohydrate levels consistent from day to day and spread evenly throughout.
- Consume enough carbohydrate to enable the body and brain to function properly.
- Check blood sugar levels regularly and speak to a doctor if there are any concerns.
- Each person should speak to their healthcare provider about their daily nutritional needs.
The worst drinks
The following drinks are not good choices for people with diabetes.
Soda and energy drinks
Sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, weight gain, and metabolic syndrome. Excess weight is a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes, and both obesity and diabetes are features of metabolic syndrome.
For people who already have diabetes, this type of drink provides large amounts of sugar and requires little digestion. In addition, these drinks are not filling as they contain only simple carbs and no fiber. This means that a person can easily drink a lot of them.
Drinking sodas without healthful food can lead to large spikes in blood sugar levels.
It is best to avoid or limit the intake of soda and sugar-sweetened energy drinks, to reduce the chance of a sugar spike.
Sugar-sweetened beverages, such as fruit punch, may taste like fruit juice, but they often contain high levels of sugar or corn syrup and contain little to no real fruit juice. These ingredients can cause the same spikes in blood sugar levels as soda.
They provide a high concentration of sugar but far less nutritional value than 100 percent pure fruit juices.
People can enjoy fresh, 100 percent fruit juices in moderation, but they should be mindful of premade fruit cocktails that contain no real juice.
People with diabetes should drink alcohol in moderation and with food.
People with diabetes can consume alcohol, but they need to be mindful of how much and when they drink.
Reasons for this include the following:
- Most alcohol does not contain sugar, but beer contains carbohydrates, and many alcoholic mixers contain sugar. This could lead to an increase in blood sugar levels and a chance of weight gain.
- Alcohol affects how the liver produces glucose, which may lead to an unexpected drop in blood sugar, or hypoglycemia. People who use insulin should be aware of the impact of alcohol on glucose levels.
- Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to liver disease and other problems for people with diabetes, as it can for other people. Typical health advise is for everyone to drink in moderation.
- Alcohol can cause a drop in blood sugar. This can be a problem for people who use insulin. However, many people with diabetes can consume a small amount of alcohol.
The American Diabetes Association recommend the following as suitable limits:
- one drink a day for women
- two drinks a day for men
One drink is equivalent to:
- 1.5 ounces of spirits (80 proof)
- 5 ounces of wine
- 12 ounces of beer
Tips when drinking alcohol include:
- consuming alcoholic drinks with food, to reduce the risk of low blood sugar
- not exceeding the limit the doctor recommends
- accounting for carbohydrates in a daily record
- consuming only the amounts health advisers recommend
- checking with a doctor how alcohol may interact with medications
- using mixers, such as sparkling water, instead of regular soda or diet drinks
- wear a medical ID, as hypoglycemia can look similar to being drunk
- check the calories and alcohol content of beers, as these can vary
- do not drive after consuming any alcohol until the alcohol has left the system
A person should never consume alcoholic drinks as a carbohydrate replacement for food. Instead, the person should limit alcohol and take it in addition to the normal diet.
How does alcohol affect blood sugar levels? Learn more here.
The following recipe ideas are healthful options for people with diabetes.
Smoothies can be a satisfying treat and a good way for a person to boost their intake of fiber. Fiber is an important, natural way to slow the body's process of digesting and releasing sugar into the bloodstream.
Adding foods, such as avocados, coconuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds to a smoothie can boost the fiber content of most smoothies, without affecting the flavor.
For a high-fiber green smoothie recipe, try using the following ingredients:
- 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
- 1 small avocado, cubed
- 1 cup spinach
- 0.5 cup blueberries
- One-half of lime with skin removed
- 0.5 cup unsweetened Greek yogurt
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds
- 0.5 teaspoon cinnamon
This smoothie is filling, and it can serve as a snack. The yogurt provides protein, and the cinnamon, chia seeds, and avocado help provide flavor and aid in balancing blood sugar.
However, smoothies can also contain high levels of sugar. A person should check the ingredients of a smoothie and account for the carbs it contains.
Smoothies containing real fruit, are nutritious, and can curb a sweet craving. Nevertheless, people must make sure to add a protein or healthful fat to balance it out. Accounting for carbohydrate intake, even from healthful, nutrient-dense foods, such as fruit, is necessary when managing diabetes.
What ingredients are good for smoothies when a person has diabetes? Click here to find out more.
Some herbal teas can be soothing and healthful.
A number of teas might be healthful options for people with diabetes.
Green tea may be a good choice and is rich in polyphenols. Some research has linked the intake of green tea to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and other conditions related to diabetes.
To make ginger green tea, use the following:
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 stevia leaves or sugar alternative (optional)
- 3 gunpowder green tea bags
- 4 cups of water
Add the cinnamon and ginger to the water and bring it to a boil. Boil for 5–10 minutes until it reaches the desired strength, then add tea bags and sugar substitute, according to taste.
A mouse study appearing in 2013 suggests that if people combine green tea extracts with other substances, it might help to prevent and treat type 2 diabetes.
This does not necessarily mean that drinking green tea will have a positive effect on people with diabetes, but since it does not appear to cause harm, it may be a good choice of drink.
Green tea can be a healthful choice. Find out more here about the benefits of green tea.
People with diabetes also need to avoid sugary additions when drinking cocktails.
For a cucumber-mint cocktail, mix the following ingredients in a blender:
- One-half of a chopped cucumber
- 2 teaspoons lime juice
- 3–5 fresh mint leaves
- 1 stevia leaf
- 1.5 ounces of gin
- Crushed lime
Serve with a slice of lime.
For people with diabetes, healthful dietary choices can affect their chances of managing their condition and reducing the risk of complications.
Drinks, as well as food, can cause glucose spikes and other problems. By making wise choices, people with diabetes can enjoy a wide range of drinks, including a moderate amount of alcohol. For an individual's specific carbohydrate intake needs, they can consult with a registered dietitian.