What drinks are good for type 2 diabetes? This is a question I get a lot. So I’m going to take the time to write out all foods and drinks that should be consumed or avoided to stop or reduce diabetic symptoms. Type 2 diabetes is a disease that can be treated easily with the help of drugs called oral hypoglycemic agents. Before concentrating on Type 1 diabetes we must also focus on this one, since for every person suffering from diabetes Type 2, there are two new cases of Type 2 reported.
When it comes to successfully managing type 2 diabetes, what you drink is just as important as what you eat. In fact, you may be surprised by how much a single drink can affect your blood sugar.
Drinks with carbohydrates (read: sugar) will affect your blood sugar more readily than zero-carb, zero-sugar drinks like water. “Anything that’s liquid that has carbohydrates will digest faster than something you would have to chew,” says Lori Zanini, RD, CDCES, who’s based in Los Angeles. The result: a quick spike in blood sugar.
If you have type 2 diabetes, this means taking sugary drinks — such as regular soda, sweet tea, and even juice — off the table and replacing them with low-sugar and sugar-free options, including water.
If you enjoy swigging bottled drinks, you may be at a loss for how to stay hydrated. Fortunately, there’s a variety of refreshing, flavorful beverages you can enjoy, says Katherine Basbaum, RD, a clinical dietitian in the cardiology and cardiac rehabilitation departments at the University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville.
Before you take your next sip, here are the top drinking dos and don’ts for people with diabetes.
1. Drink Plain Water, Which Has a Neutral Effect on Blood Sugar
Water is one of the few beverages you can drink without worry throughout the day. “Water is neutral,” Zanini says. This means that water neither raises nor lowers your blood sugar.
Drinking water is also a great way to stay hydrated, and staying hydrated will help you regulate your blood sugar. “Water helps dilute your blood, which lowers your blood sugar levels,” Zanini explains.
In terms of daily intake, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends drinking ½ ounce (oz) to 1 oz of fluid, such as water, for each pound of body weight. Keep an eye on your hydration by checking that the color of your urine is light yellow, Zanini says.
If you often forget to drink as much water as you should, Basbaum has a suggestion for increasing your intake: Drink one 8 oz glass of water for every other beverage you drink that contains sugar substitutes or caffeine. Shake things up with sparkling water or by squeezing lemon or lime juice into your glass.
2. Drink Cow’s Milk, Which Also Provides Protein and Calcium
“Skim or low-fat milk is also a good beverage option, but it must be counted toward your carb total for a particular meal or snack,” Basbaum says.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), a cup of 1 percent milk (low-fat milk) also provides 305 milligrams (mg) of calcium, which accounts for about 23 percent of the daily value.
Be aware that nondairy milk options, such as almond milk, may have added sweeteners and flavorings. They also often lack the blood-sugar-stabilizing protein of cow’s milk.
3. Don’t Drink Sugar-Sweetened Sodas or Teas
Regular consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages like soda and sweetened bottled tea wreaks havoc on your body in a variety of ways.
For example, a study published in December 2016 in The Journal of Nutrition found that middle-aged adults who drank more than three sugar-sweetened beverages per week had a 46 percent higher risk of developing prediabetes than people who didn’t drink sugary beverages. Similarly, an earlier study revealed that people who consumed just two sugar-sweetened soda or juice beverages per week had an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, particularly if they’d gained more than 6 pounds over a five-year period.
“Sugar-sweetened drinks are absorbed into your bloodstream much too quickly, causing a spike in blood glucose levels,” explains Basbaum. Furthermore, these drinks will affect your carb intake. A typical 12 oz can of soda contains about 39 g of carbs, according to the USDA. Meanwhile, 12 oz of fruit punch contains roughly the same amount of carbs as a can of cola.
Get in the habit of carrying a bottle of water with you in case you get caught somewhere with no sugar-free drink options available.
4. Drink Artificially Sweetened Drinks — Maybe
Drinks with artificial sweeteners, such as diet sodas, remain a controversial topic.
On the one hand, drinks with artificial sweeteners can be a calorie-reducing alternative to sweetened drinks. “I do endorse artificially sweetened beverages for the purpose of controlling blood sugar and weight,” Basbaum says.
Because artificially sweetened drinks have zero carbohydrates and low calorie counts, they may be a good alternative to soda and juice sweetened with traditional sugar, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Yet artificial sweeteners can be several hundred to several thousand times more intense than natural sugar, research has shown. Plus, in Zanini’s experience, they cause people to crave sweets more.
Some studies support this notion. An article published in Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism notes that eating artificial sweeteners may cause brain changes that trigger overeating. The article also references research that may link consumption of these sugar alternatives to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Ultimately, more studies are needed, the authors concluded.
Whether you decide to drink artificially sweetened beverages (and how much) is a matter of taste and preference, and a choice to make with your healthcare team.
5. Drink Tomato Juice Instead of Sugary Fruit Juice
If you enjoy drinking juice — or you’re tired of drinking water all the time — avoid sugary fruit options and instead opt for a small portion of vegetable juice, like tomato juice, Zanini says. And as long as you stick to 100 percent tomato juice with no added salt or sugar, it might provide you with some good overall health benefits.
For instance, drinking 1½ cups of tomato juice a day for a month cut down on some measures of inflammation in obese women, according to research published in the British Journal of Nutrition. Tomato juice has about 10 grams (g) of carbs per cup, so you’ll need to factor that in.
As always, it’s better to eat whole fruits and vegetables than drink them, Zanini says. Eating one whole tomato per day may help reduce blood pressure and, by extension, the cardiovascular risk associated with type 2 diabetes, according to a study published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition.
6. Drink Unsweetened Coffee and Tea — in Small Amounts
Feel free to drink tea and coffee — hot or iced — in moderation. “Try them either unsweetened or prepared with a sugar substitute,” Basbaum says. Your best bet is to stick to unsweetened coffee or tea, but if you have to add something, look for low-calorie sweeteners. Keep in mind that any milk, cream, or creamer you add to your drink must be counted as part of the carbohydrates in your diet. If you enjoy syrup flavors in coffee drinks, look for sugar-free variations.
Rather than adding sugar, tea can be flavored with lemon juice. But if you need some sugar, Zanini recommends going for Stevia instead of artificial sweeteners as a more natural option.
Research suggests that coffee and tea — green tea in particular — may lower type 2 diabetes risk. One study found that people who consumed at least 6 cups of green tea or 3 cups of coffee per day were 33 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than people who consumed less than 1 cup of either beverage per week.
7. Don’t Drink Sports Drinks — Unless You’re an Endurance Athlete
Exercise is great for managing type 2 diabetes, but skip sports drinks, which are high in carbohydrates. One 8 oz serving of Powerade, for example, packs about 19 g of carbs, notes the USDA, and that’s not even the whole bottle.
Dietitians only recommend sports drinks for endurance athletes, who may exercise strenuously enough to need salt and nutrient replacement. “Sports drinks are usually not necessary unless someone has been very active for over an hour,” Zanini says.
Water is sufficient to keep you hydrated for moderate exercise. You can also plan on a healthy postworkout snack that provides you with some carbs and protein, such as an apple with a bit of peanut butter or a hard-boiled egg and an orange. These options will give you the protein and carbs you need to kick-start your exercise recovery without spiking your blood sugar.
8. Drink 100 Percent Fruit Juices — Occasionally and in Moderation
You can have the occasional 4 to 6 oz glass of 100 percent fruit juice as a treat, Basbaum says. Remember to count the carbs as part of your overall meal, and plan for the blood sugar spike the juice might cause.
For example, if you like to have breakfast with fresh-squeezed orange juice, which has 26 g carbs per cup, per the USDA, calculate its nutrient makeup along with your eggs and whole-grain toast for a complete picture of the meal.
9. Drink Alcohol Sparingly and on Special Occasions
While previous research, such as a study published in May 2014 in Diabetes Care, found that moderate alcohol consumption may offer heart-protective effects for people with diabetes, more recent research published in September 2018 in The Lancet suggests that no amount of alcohol is safe.
If you choose to imbibe, do so in small quantities, especially because alcohol can cause blood sugar fluctuations, notes the American Diabetes Association (ADA). According to the ADA, moderate drinking is defined as up to one drink for women and two drinks for men per day. One drink equals 1½ oz of liquor, 12 oz of beer, or 5 oz of wine.
And because the benefits of alcohol are debated, for people with diabetes and the general public, if you don’t already drink alcohol, don’t start, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises.
10. Don’t Drink Energy Drinks, Which Contain Sugar and Caffeine
Energy drinks give you a temporary boost of energy that comes from sugar, caffeine, and other additives, but all of that can also cause heart rhythm disturbances, increase heart rate and blood pressure, and disrupt sleep, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Just one 8.4 oz serving of Red Bull energy drink contains more than 26 g of sugar and 75 mg of caffeine, notes the USDA, and even the sugar-free version has 75 mg of caffeine. For comparison, 8 oz of brewed coffee contains roughly 92 mg of caffeine.
Instead of relying on liquid energy to keep you going, fight fatigue in other ways. Some of the best ways to stay healthy and alert are to focus on getting quality sleep (Zanini says seven to nine hours per night is the sweet spot) and regular exercise (150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise along with two full-body strength sessions per week at a minimum, per the CDC). If you do need a quick energy boost, stick to healthier beverage options like unsweetened coffee and tea.
Zero- or low-calorie drinks are typically your best bet when choosing something to quench your thirst. 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 contains 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.
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 adult men drink about 13 cups (3.08 liters) of day and women drink about 9 cups (2.13 liters).
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. Seltzer water
Seltzer water is a great fizzy, sugar-free alternative to other carbonated beverages, such as soda.
Like regular water, seltzer water is free of calories, carbs, and sugar. Carbonated water is a great way to stay hydrated and support healthy blood sugar levels.
There are many different flavors and varieties to choose from, or you can try adding some fresh fruit and herbs to give your drink a delicious twist.
ResearchTrusted Source has shown that green tea has a positive effect on your general health.
A large 2021 cohort study of more than a half million people suggestsTrusted Source that daily consumption of green tea may lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. However, more research is needed.
Whether you choose green, black, white, or oolong tea, avoid those with added sugars. For a refreshing taste, make your own iced tea and add a few slices of lemon.
4. Herbal tea
Herbal tea varieties like chamomile, hibiscus, ginger, and peppermint tea are all excellent options for people with diabetes.
Not only is herbal tea free of carbs, calories, and sugar, but it’s also rich in disease-fighting antioxidant compounds, including carotenoids, flavonoids, and phenolic acids.
5. Unsweetened coffee
Drinking coffee might help lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by improving sugar metabolism, according to a 2019 review of studiesTrusted Source.
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.
6. Vegetable juice
While most 100 percent fruit juice is 100 percent 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.
7. Low fat milk
Milk contains important vitamins and minerals, but it does add carbohydrates to your diet. Always choose unsweetened, low fat, or skim versions of your preferred milk and stick to no more than two to three 8-ounce glasses a day.
8. Milk alternatives
Milk alternatives like almond, oat, rice, soy, rice, or coconut milk are dairy-free and low in carbs.
They are also sometimes fortified with important nutrients like calcium and vitamin D, both of which play a key role in bone health.
Be aware that soy and rice milk contain carbohydrates, and many nut milks contain a minimal amount of protein, so check the packaging carefully to pick the right product for you.
9. Green smoothie
Green smoothies can be an excellent way to squeeze some extra fiber and nutrients into your diet while staying hydrated.
Try making your own using green vegetables like spinach, kale, or celery and pair with some protein powder and a bit of fruit for a healthy, homemade smoothie.
Keep in mind that fruits contain carbohydrates, so remember to count them toward your daily carb intake.
10. Sugar-free lemonade
You can easily whip up your own sugar-free lemonade at home using just a few simple ingredients for a refreshing and delicious low carb beverage.
To get started, combine sparkling water with a bit of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Top it off with some ice and your choice of sugar-free sweetener, such as stevia.
Kombucha is a fermented beverage typically made from black or green tea.
It’s a great source of probiotics, which are a type of beneficial bacteria found in the gut that have been well studied for their ability to improve blood sugar controlTrusted Source for people with type 2 diabetes.
Although the exact nutritional content can vary depending on the specific type, brand, and flavor, a 1-cup serving of kombucha typically contains about 7 grams of carbs, making it a great choice on a low carb diet.
The 3 worst drinks
Drinks to avoid
- regular soda
- energy drinks that contain sugar
- 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. However, fruit juices do provide some nutrients.
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 sugar and 150 calories, notes the ADA.
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. A 2018 studyTrusted Source showed that energy drinks can cause a spike in blood sugar.
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 percent fruit juice is fine in moderation, and is a source of nutrients like vitamin C, 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.
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, limit your portion size to 4 ounces (0.12 liters), 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.
Exercise caution with these two
Drinks to be aware of
- diet soda
- alcoholic beverages
1. Diet soda
A 2015 studyTrusted Source linked increased diet soda intake with a risk for metabolic syndrome. This syndrome refers to a cluster of conditions, including:
- high blood pressure
- high levels of cholesterol
- high levels of triglycerides
- increased weight gain
- high blood sugar levels
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 professional 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 2016 studyTrusted Source in more than 383,000 people found that alcohol intake was associated with a higher risk of prediabetes. However, mild to moderate consumption of alcohol was actually linked to a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Some studies have shown a beneficial effectTrusted Source 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.
ADA guidelines recommend that those with diabetes limit consumption to one drink or less per day for women and two drinks or less per day for men. One drink is considered 5 ounces (0.15 liters) of wine, 1 1/2 ounces (.04 liters) of distilled spirits, or a 12-ounce beer.
More research is needed to understand the potential relationship between diabetes risk and alcohol consumption.
The bottom line
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 low fat 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