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If you live with diabetes, you probably deserve a gold star for tracking what you eat with the tenacity of an Olympic athlete.
But in addition to monitoring your protein, carbohydrate, and fat intake at each meal, don’t forget that what you drink matters, too. That afternoon latte could be causing a glucose spike rather than perking you up.
Here’s a look at the best drinks for (almost) every occasion if you have diabetes. Oh, yeah, and recipe alternatives for some of your favorite treats.
You can’t beat these zero- or low-calorie options that have no added sugars.
- Water (plain or sugar-free flavored versions)
- Sugar-free sparkling water (e.g., LaCroix)
- Hot tea or iced tea (sweetened with no-calorie sweetener, if desired)
- Sugar-free sodas
- Low-sugar cranberry juice cocktail ( e.g., Diet Ocean Spray)
- Low-sugar juice drinks (e.g., Diet V8 Splash)
Simply put, they won’t raise your blood sugar levels.
Here’s a closer look:
Your body relies on water to function, and it’s essential for maintaining overall health — whether you have diabetes or not. It’s recommended that men consume about 125 ounces of water per day and women consume about 91 ounces.
A few benefits of drinking water:
Aside from the obvious benefit of keeping you alive, here are some other things water does for you:
- Helps you maintain a healthy body temperature
- Lubricates your joints
- Eliminates excess glucose through your urine
- Improves your cognitive function
Sugar-free sparkling water
Another great choice is sparkling water that has zero calories and no added sweeteners.
Aside from its short and innocent ingredient list of water and natural fruit essences, sparkling water has been shown to improve swallowing ability, keep you full for longer, and help relieve constipation.
Some popular brands include Waterloo, La Croix, and Bubly. Best flavors? Try lime, peach-pear, mango, or coconut!
Going through the cans too fast and want to make your own? Get a sparkling water maker online.
Caffeine affects everyone differently, so you’ll want to check your blood sugar to know if caffeinated coffee is a good choice for you. Otherwise, try decaf.
In any case, the Mayo Clinic recommends limiting coffee intake to four cups per day. Remember to consider the carbohydrate content of dairy or creamers and to choose no-calorie sweeteners.
Herbal, black, or green; caffeinated or decaf — drink it unsweetened and with a squeeze of lemon for added flavor. (Added cream and nutritive sweeteners like honey will increase calorie and carb content, affecting your blood sugar.)
Try it iced for a refreshing treat or hot to help you relax before bed. Research suggests green tea may help reduce blood pressure and lower LDL (“bad” cholesterol) levels.
New to drinking tea? Find some tasty options online.
Most sugar-free sodas are 99 percent water and can be counted as part of your water intake for the day. There are many caffeine-free options, too. As with all aspects of living with diabetes, moderation is key.
Low-sugar cranberry juice cocktail
Regular unsweetened fruit juices contain a lot of natural sugars — 15 grams of sugar or more in only 4 ounces.
If you’re craving some fruity refreshment without the extra sugar, try the Diet Ocean Spray flavors like Cran-Mango and Cran-Pineapple. They have only 2 grams of carbs and 10 calories per 8-ounce serving, and they provide 100 percent of your daily requirement for vitamin C.
Other low-sugar juice options
Another great lower-carb juice option is Diet V8 Splash or V8 vegetable juice. The Diet V8 Splash flavors are tasty and have only 10 calories and 2 grams of carbs in an 8-ounce serving. Plus, they contain the antioxidant vitamins A and C.
An 8-ounce glass of regular or low-sodium V8 vegetable juice provides two servings of vegetables and has only 45 calories and 9 grams of carbs and no added sugars.
Glucerna and Boost are brands of meal-replacement shakes and bars designed specifically for people with diabetes. These products are low in calories and sugar and higher in protein and healthy fats. They’re good options if you’re on the go.
Some studies have shown that using one of these drinks as a meal replacement once daily leads to weight loss in some people with diabetes.
A homemade option
You can also try this High-Protein Chocolate Smoothie recipe. It contains easy to find ingredients (like cottage cheese, cocoa powder, and almond milk), and the nutritional stats per serving are on point:
- 284 calories
- 16.3 grams carbs
- 42.9 grams protein
Alcoholic beverages are definitely not considered “good” drink choices for anyone.
Alcohol is known to:
- interact with diabetes medications
- cause blood sugar to rise or fall to dangerous levels
- lead to overeating
- contain a lot of carbs and added sugars (the usual culprit: mixed drinks such as margaritas, rum and cola, and hard liquor mixed with juice)
Of course, occasional drinking isn’t necessarily harmful. Just be sure to consult your doctor first and test your blood sugar frequently to find out how alcohol affects you.
If you do drink alcohol:
Choose a low-carb option such as:
- a glass of brut Champagne
- a 5-ounce glass of dry red or white wine
- a 12-ounce light beer (which has 3 to 6 grams of carbs, compared with 15 grams in a 12-ounce regular beer)
- 1 1/2 ounces of liquor with water or sugar-free mixers, or simply on the rocks
You’ll also want to avoid drinking on an empty stomach. And keep a glass of water in your other hand to slow your roll and stay hydrated!
A nonalcoholic cocktail suggestion:
This Grape-Pineapple Mint Fizz has only 61 calories per 5-ounce serving and no added sugar.
To put it bluntly, leave these to the nutritional daredevils. Their high sugar content, large amounts of caffeine, and high carb levels put these last on our drink list.
Try a cup of unsweetened black coffee or water. Dehydration causes fatigue, and nothing is better for your brain and for increasing alertness than water.
OK, we know that isn’t exactly exciting. But this Sugar-Free Almond Mocha recipe is! It uses unsweetened almond milk, cocoa powder, and stevia to achieve rich and creamy greatness while giving you a bit of a caffeine boost.
Drink this: Homemade sugar-free chocolate milk
Mix up creamy chocolate milk at home using this Sugar-Free Chocolate Milk recipe. It substitutes cocoa and xylitol for chocolate syrup and Natvia for sugar.
Instead of this: Nesquik Chocolate Milk, Low Fat
Store-bought versions of chocolate milk are super sweet and usually contain additives and fillers.
One 14-ounce bottle of Nesquik chocolate milk contains:
37 grams sugar
40 grams carbs
Drink this: Strawberry iced tea
Brewing tea at home can save you from missing out on your beloved sweet tea tradition.
Try a cup of this Strawberry Iced Tea, which has:
4 grams carbs
2 grams sugar
Instead of this: Pure Leaf Sweet Tea
Sweet tea is practically made for sipping while sitting in a rocking chair on your porch on a hot summer day. But this grab-and-go version is made to be followed by a marathon to counteract the soaring carb count.
One 18.5-ounce bottle contains:
42 grams carbs
42 grams sugar
Drink this: Chai latte for diabetes
Make your own sugar-free, low-carb latte using this Super Easy Chai Latte recipe. Mix in a sugar substitute for a little added sweetness if you wish.
1 gram carbs
0 grams sugar
Instead of this: Starbucks chai tea latte
As tasty as it is, a grande with 2-percent milk will set you back:
45 grams of carbs
42 grams of sugar
Drink this: Sugar-free hot cocoa
Make cocoa at home with low-fat milk, cocoa powder, and a sugar substitute. Try this Fancy Low Carb Hot Chocolate (Sugar-Free, Gluten-Free) recipe.
It has five ingredients and contains only:
4 grams of carbs
0.1 gram of sugar
Instead of this: Swiss Miss hot cocoa packets
Store-bought hot chocolate packets like Swiss Miss contain:
16 grams of carbs
15 grams of sugar
Drink this: Homemade sugar-free lemonade
Make your own lemonade from fresh lemons using this Summer Lemonade recipe.
It’s made with Splenda for sweetness, and 1 cup has only:
2 grams of sugar
4 grams of carbs
Instead of this: Simply Lemonade
Most bottled and premixed lemonades are not great options.
An 11.5-ounce bottle of Simply Lemonade has:
42 grams of carbs
30 grams of sugar
Drink this: Mott’s Apple Light
Make your own apple cider before the leaves change, using a light apple juice such as Mott’s Apple Light, which has only 12 grams of carbs and 12 grams of sugar per 8-ounce serving. Use it to make this Easy Homemade Hot Apple Cider.
Instead of this: Alpine Spiced Apple Cider Mix
Store-bought apple cider is likely to be higher in sugar and carbs.
An 8-ounce serving of this apple cider has:
20 grams of carbs
20 grams of sugar
Drink this: Homemade Berry Blast Smoothie
This Berry Blast Smoothie is low-glycemic and made with coconut water instead of milk, so it’s a safe post-spin-class delight.
Instead of this: Odwalla Berries GoMega Smoothie
Store-bought smoothies are convenient but usually loaded with added sugar.
Just one bottle of Odwalla Berries GoMega Smoothie has:
56 grams of carbs
47 grams of sugar
Stick to the basics, opting for water, tea, or low-sugar juices and enjoying everything else in moderation. Be mindful of hidden carbs and sugar, particularly in ready-to-drink products.