If you have type 2 diabetes, you know it’s important to watch what you eat — and what you drink. Beverages 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,” which is why the best choices have either zero or very few calories. But 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. Here are some of the healthiest options to quench your thirst, as well as a few drinks you should avoid.WaterWater should always be your first beverage choice when you have type 2 diabetes. “Drinking about 16 ounces 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 ounces, 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.
You’ll need to count the calories and carbohydrates in milk, but this beverage really delivers on nutrients. Though not free of calories, milk is considered important for a diabetic diet because it provides calcium and vitamin D. After a type 2 diabetes diagnosis, it’s wise to gradually switch from whole milk to low-fat milk to skim. “Don’t be afraid of milk, but limit your serving size,” says Ferguson. An 8-ounce cup of skim milk adds up to 80 calories and 12 grams of carbohydrates.
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 150 calories and is the equivalent of downing 10 teaspoons of sugar. “You would need to walk for a mile and a half to work off the calories,” says Ferguson. If you’re craving the fizzy stuff, a diet soda that contains zero grams of carbohydrate can be a better choice.
Thirsting for some juice? You’ll need to carefully consider your choices, but you can enjoy it in moderation. “A limited amount of juice is acceptable, but remember that you get more nutrition and fiber from eating whole vegetables and fruits,” says Ferguson. Make sure any fruit juice is 100 percent juice with no added sugar. The tally for 4 to 6 ounces of most fruit juices is about 15 grams of carbs and 50 calories. However, most vegetable juices pack more punch, clocking in at about 10 grams of carbs and 50 calories for a full cup — about twice the volume compared with fruit juice, and fewer carbs.
Unsweetened tea is another free food. And like coffee, tea is loaded with antioxidants, substances that eat up the free-radical molecules that can contribute to heart disease. Both coffee and green tea may offer some protection against type 2 diabetes, too. A study done in Japan involving more than 17,000 men and women 40 to 65 years old 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 (women benefited more than men).
Alcohol isn’t the best beverage choice when you have type 2 diabetes. That’s because it can interfere with some diabetes medications 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, only drink with meals, and avoid mixed drinks because of added sugar.
Ferguson suggests thinking of black coffee as a “free food” — that means it has fewer than 5 grams of carbohydrates and 20 calories or less per serving, and won’t raise your blood sugar. “The American Diabetes Association does not put any limits on coffee,” says Ferguson. Of course, if you use cream and sugar, the coffee is no longer free, so try adding just a little skim milk and a sugar substitute instead.
What Is Type 2 Diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body can no longer process blood sugar, also known as glucose. Over time, higher-than-normal levels of sugar in the blood can lead to damage throughout the body, including problems with the eyes, gums, hands, feet, and heart. Although once known as “adult-onset diabetes,” type 2 can begin at any age — and more and more children are getting it.