The Best Beverages for People with Diabetes

When you have diabetes, you're more susceptible to dehydration, which makes finding a suitable fluid to drink essential. Sugar-sweetened beverages will raise blood glucose levels quickly, which makes them a not-so-great choice. But diet soda or other sugar-free beverages may not be your best bets, either. Learn more about the benefits of keeping up with your liquid intake, and how to quench your thirst—and your health needs—with plain water.

Benefits of Staying Hydrated

Staying hydrated is so important for general health, but especially for diabetes. It turns out that drinking plenty of fluids can actually help with your glucose control by flushing out some of the excess sugar in the blood through urine.

Being dehydrated is a common side effect of diabetes. When the body doesn't produce enough insulin, or the body becomes less sensitive to the blood sugar-lowering effects of insulin (insulin resistance), glucose levels can build up in the bloodstream. The kidneys work hard to absorb this excess sugar but may become overworked. As a result, they start to increase urination, and ultimately, the body becomes dehydrated as fluid is pulled from the organs and tissues. Keeping on top of your fluid intake (especially water) can help support your kidneys and keep your other organs healthy, while helping to keep your glucose levels stable.

How Much Fluid To Drink Each Day

Water is the best way to hydrate if you have diabetes, as it doesn't raise blood sugar. Typically, 64 to 80 ounces of water (8 to 10 cups) a day is the right amount for most people, including people with type 2 diabetes. This number is based on average maintenance fluid needs. It includes fluid that is found in food (like fresh fruit and soups), but since that is hard to calculate, only cups of liquid are generally counted.

Ask your doctor if this is the right amount of fluid for you as many factors can affect fluid needs—including caffeine intake, weight, and kidney function. Additionally, when it is very hot or you are exercising, you may need more fluid. If you find yourself so thirsty that you are regularly drinking more water than recommended, or you feel that your thirst is unquenchable, you should discuss those symptoms with your doctor, as they can be signs that your diabetes is not well-managed.

Soda and Diabetes

The medical world has long recognized the causal relationship between drinking sugar-sweetened soda and diabetes. Essentially, soda and other sugar-added beverages can quickly spike blood sugar levels, as the carbohydrates are readily available for digestion and not slowed down by fiber, fat, or protein. Because soda is so easy to drink, it can increase a person's daily sugar consumption to very high levels without them even noticing. If you have diabetes, it's best to replace your regular soda with water, herbal tea, or seltzer.

The Low-Down on Diet Soda

Recent studies suggest a strong link between regular diet soda consumption and type 2 diabetes. One study found that the artificial sweeteners used to make diet soda have been shown to be harmful to gut bacteria, and there's a resulting relationship between drinking diet soda and increased insulin resistance, weight gain, and diabetes.

In a landmark 2009 study, the scientists proposed that it's thanks to the other behaviors that go along with drinking diet soda (namely overeating other food, lack of exercise), that is to blame for weight gain, insulin resistance, and diabetes. That same take-home message has been echoed by other recent research. There seems to be both a direct and indirect effect between drinking diet soda and diabetes development.

However, the artificial sweeteners used in the production of diet soda and other sugar-free beverages have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They have not been found to cause health issues and can provide flexibility for diabetic meal planning.​

While water should be your drink of choice, if you're a die-hard soda drinker, an occasional diet soda here and there will probably not majorly impact your condition—and it may help you fulfill a craving so that you can stay on your plan in the long-term. However, there are numerous alternatives that will satisfy your tastebuds without spiking your blood sugar or altering your gut microbiome.

Fruit Juices

While whole, fresh fruit can and should be part of a diabetes-friendly diet, fruit juice is another thing entirely. Stripped from most of its fiber, fruit juice is a vehicle for quick carbohydrates that can also elevate blood sugar. Fruit juice may still have benefit in that it contains vitamins and minerals, but you're better off drinking water and eating a serving of fresh fruit alongside it for better glucose control.

Vegetable juices, like tomato, carrot, celery, and kale juice, on the other hand, may not raise glucose levels quite as much. These veggie-based blends could be a good option for a nutrient-rich beverage for people with diabetes, as long as there's no hidden fruit or added sugar. Check the label on the bottle, or even better yet: make your own veggie blends at home.

Hydrating Foods

Water-packed raw, fresh fruits and vegetables can certainly count toward your daily hydration goals, but this type of intake is harder to track. But the great thing is that alongside the water content, you'll be getting a good dose of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, too.

As much of the water content of produce is lost during cooking, you'll need to eat raw foods to get the most benefit. Salads are a great way to get in more hydrating foods and also try incorporating raw sliced veggies like radishes, cucumbers, and julienned carrots as toppings on grain bowls and stir-fries.

Alcohol

Even though it's a liquid, alcohol can actually be dehydrating—the opposite effect we're looking for. Alcohol also can raise or lower blood sugar and shouldn't be mixed with most blood sugar medications, so it's best to seriously limit your intake or avoid drinking altogether while following a diabetes-focused plan.

Coffee and Tea

The most current research shows that caffeine-containing beverages can actually contribute to your hydration goals if you're a regular coffee/tea drinker. Occasional drinkers should be aware of a dehydrating effect, however. When we drink caffeine, it shuts off a hormone responsible for holding onto water called the antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which causes an increase in urination. Basically, everything we drink after that morning cuppa will get quickly urinated out. It's best to drink water two hours before and two hours after your caffeine to bypass that ADH effect.

Healthy Alternatives

Again, the best beverage to reach for when you have type 2 diabetes is probably plain water. But if you find it hard to drink 8 cups of plain water a day, here are some ideas and alternatives that will help you reach your goal:

  • Flavor filtered water by adding 1 or 2 slices of fresh fruit, such as lemon, lime, or orange, or a few berries, cucumber slices or herbs like mint. You'll get the essence of the flavor without added calories or carbs.
  • Make a homemade iced tea by steeping herbal or green tea bags in hot water, and then chilling. When you use a fruit-flavored tea bag to make your iced tea, you might even find it doesn't need additional sweetness. Not to mention, you'll reap additional health benefits of green tea.
  • Serve flavored sparkling waters in wine glasses with dinner. To take things to the next level, add a splash of tart cherry juice (naturally low in sugar) and a few fresh or frozen cherries as garnish.
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Article Sources

  • Nettleton, JA, et al. Diet Soda Intake and Risk of Incident Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. Diabetes Care. 2009; 32(4): 688.

  • Suez J, Korem T, Zeevi D, Zilberman-Schapira G, Thaiss CA, Maza O, Israeli D, Zmora N, Gilad S, Weinberger A, Kuperman Y. Artificial Sweeteners Induce Glucose Intolerance by Altering the Gut Microbiota. Nature. 2014 Oct;514(7521):181. doi:10.1038/nature13793