The beverages you sip play just as big a role in your blood sugar levels as the foods you eat. Here’s what you need to know.
When you have diabetes, you know that part of managing your blood sugar means paying attention to what you eat. It’s just as important, though, to keep tabs on what you drink.
Falling short on fluids can make the sugar in your blood more concentrated, causing your blood sugar levels to rise. This could spell trouble for the 25% of adults aged 65 and older who are living with diabetes.
While the amount of water you need doesn’t increase as you age, your body does lose some of its ability to conserve water, and your sense of thirst weakens. That makes staying hydrated even more important for older adults with diabetes.
Aim to drink one-third of your body weight in ounces of liquids, recommends Diana Kerwin, M.D., a geriatric medicine physician with Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. (For instance, if you’re 150 pounds, you should drink 50 ounces of fluids.)
Not all beverages are created equal, though. Some drinks can help you keep your blood sugar levels steady or protect against diabetes-related complications. On the other hand, others could make it harder to maintain your numbers or increase the risk for problems like weight gain.
Here’s a closer look at what to sip — and what to skip.
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Drink This: Milk
Got milk? You’ll want to say, yes. Dairy consumption has been tied to a lower risk for type 2 diabetes, and a growing body of evidence suggests that the protein in milk may also support healthier blood sugar levels after meals for people with type 2 diabetes.
Milk might make it easier to keep your weight in check, too. Drinking a 7-ounce glass daily is tied to a 12% lower risk of obesity, one review found.
Choose low-fat milk over whole, since full-fat dairy contains saturated fat that can raise your risk of heart disease. And pay attention to portion size. Milk contains calories and carbohydrates, so it’s important to factor it into your meal plan for the day, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA).
Drink This: Water
H20 is the best drink for everyone, especially if you have diabetes. Water is free of added sugar, so it won’t have an impact on your blood sugar, explains Darien Dempsey, R.D.N., L.D.N., a clinical dietitian with Temple Health in Philadelphia.
Choosing water over calorie-containing beverages may help you avoid weight gain. That’s important, since maintaining a healthy weight is a must for blood sugar control, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
You can add crushed fresh fruit (like berries or citrus) or fresh herbs to your water when the plain stuff starts to feel a little dull. Prefer some bubbles? Sparkling water is another great choice as long as it doesn’t make you gassy, says Nancy Mazarin, M.S., R.D.N., Long Island, New York–based nutrition expert who specializes in chronic health management for seniors.
Drink This: Unsweetened Tea
Like water, plain tea is another beverage that doesn’t serve up extra calories or sugar. Green tea is particularly good. Sipping the stuff may lower fasting blood sugar levels, perhaps thanks to antioxidants that affect how the body absorbs carbohydrates, a review of the evidence found.
Consider aiming for two cups a day. Findings show that amount can lower your risk of heart disease, which is higher for people with diabetes.
Plain, unsweetened tea is a better choice than tea with added sugar or creamer. Both can spike your blood sugar and add extra calories, Mazarin says. (A splash of low-fat milk is fine, though.)
If you’d like a little sweetness, try a packet of a no-calorie herbal sweetener like stevia instead. “It won’t spike your blood sugar, and one or two servings a day haven’t been shown to be harmful,” she adds.
Avoid: Sugary Beverages
It’s best to steer clear of soda, fruit punch, sports drinks, energy drinks and sweetened teas. These drinks contain added sugar and empty calories, which can spike your blood sugar and contribute to weight gain, according to the ADA.
If you don’t want to give up soda altogether (or are working towards weaning yourself off), diet soda is a better choice than regular, Dempsey says. But it’s worth limiting your intake, since the artificial sweeteners in diet soda can trigger cravings for sugary foods and potentially raise your insulin levels, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Limit: 100% Fruit Juice
It’s a slightly better choice than the no-no’s listed above, since it has some nutrients (like vitamin C). But it’s still high in calories and the natural sugars can still cause your blood sugar to spike.
The ADA recommends limiting your intake of 100% fruit juice to 4 ounces daily.
Craving a flavored beverage? Dempsey suggests mixing 4 ounces of 100% fruit juice with 4 ounces of water.
See our sources:
Prevalence of diabetes in the U.S.: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Surprising things that can spike your blood sugar: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
How green tea affects blood sugar: Nutrition & Metabolism
Milk in the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes: Diabetes/Metabolism Research and Reviews
What to drink when you have diabetes: American Diabetes Association
How diet soda can mess with insulin levels: Cleveland Clinic
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