Diabetics: Be cautious of beverage choice

Have game plan when selecting what to drink

By Barbara Pierce


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 blood sugar.

“Generally speaking, you want your calories and carbs to come from whole foods, not from drinks,” says Nessie Ferguson, a diabetes educator and nutritionist at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. This 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.

Beverages, as well as food, affect your blood glucose level. If you have diabetes, it’s recommended that you get your carbohydrates mainly from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and low-fat or skimmed dairy products.

Here are some suggestions about what to drink from Crystal Hein, registered dietitian and nutrition educator and owner-operator of Crystal Clear Nutrition in Herkimer.

— Drink more water

Water should always be your first choice of what to drink. “As a dietitian, I encourage mostly water throughout the day,” she said. “Add a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, or any fresh fruit to your water for a treat.

As water takes the edge off your appetite, drinking a glass before a meal helps you eat less. Six to nine 8-ounce glasses of water per day are recommended.

Still not convinced? Here’s something that may convince you: Water may help control your blood sugar by flushing out glucose. A study found that people who drank less than two cups of water a day were 30 percent more likely to have high blood sugar than those who drank more.

— Drink more milk

Low fat and fat-free milk is a good choice, said Hein. It provides the calcium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin D your body needs. It’s a great beverage for people with diabetes.

— Avoid sugary fruit juices

Your mom served up orange juice every day. But Hein advises to avoid fruit juice.

When choosing juice, make sure the label says 100 percent juice with no sugar added. Also, be mindful of the portion size — four ounces is a serving.

The reality is that yes, a glass of orange juice contains Vitamin C, but that doesn’t outweigh the fact that it’s loaded with sugar. “Some fruit juices have several hundred calories from sugar,” Hein said. A 12-ounce glass of orange juice contains an incredible 10 teaspoons of sugar, about the same as a can of Coke.

“Remember that liquids are absorbed more quickly and cause a faster increase in your blood sugar level than whole food like fruit,” Hein said.

Soda deemed unhealthy

— Avoid soda

“A can of soda has the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar,” Hein cautioned. That will send your blood sugar soaring — as well as boosting your risk for weight gain, high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease.

If you have diabetes, cutting out soda and other sugar-sweetened drinks is one of the most powerful ways to control blood sugar, lose weight, and improve your health, experts agree.

— Drink diet soda carefully

“Drinking diet soda will help to reduce your overall caloric and carbohydrate intake since it contains no carbohydrates and will not raise blood glucose levels,” said Hein.

But are zero-calorie drinks a brilliant choice, or could they also mess with your blood sugar? Recent science has stirred the debate. Some studies found no link between diet drinks and diabetes; others say they are connected.

“I drank a Diet Dr. Pepper most every day. I thought it was fine as it had no calories or carbs,” said Pat Van Deusen, 62, of Nampa, Idaho, who has struggled with diabetes for years.

“I could never get my blood sugar under control. Then I saw a new doctor, who suggested I drop the Diet Dr. Pepper. I was amazed! My blood sugar went down to where it should be and has pretty much stayed there! It really made a difference!” Van Deusen said.

But, as there are a lot of things to factor in and disagreement among researchers, don’t give up on diet soda just yet. As Hein said, diet soda is a better alternative than a sugar-packed version for diabetics.

— Drink coffee carefully

“Unflavored coffee is a good choice,” said Hein. What people add to their coffee may raise blood sugar. Sugar, sweetened creamers, milk and half-and-half can raise blood sugar.

“Some popular, flavored coffee drinks can have the equivalent of 15 teaspoons of sugar in them,” she cautioned. The Federal Drug Administration has approved several sweeteners for people with diabetes. Hein recommends you use these in your coffee.

Research indicates that for some people who have diabetes, coffee may raise blood sugar.

Bottom line: It comes down to how coffee affects your individual blood sugar. If you’re having a tough time controlling your blood sugar, it may be worth cutting out coffee to see if it makes a difference. Everyone’s blood-sugar response is unique.

— Drink more tea

I recommend unsweetened tea,” Hein said. “Green, hot, cold, fruit flavored or just plain tea.” Sweetened, bottled iced teas have tons of added sugar.