The Best and Worst Drinks for Diabetes

By Jennifer Nadel, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
October 7, 2022

People who have type 2 diabetes need to be aware of how drinks can affect their blood sugar levels. Certain beverages can increase glucose. Luckily, there are plenty of tasty drinks that people living with diabetes can enjoy.

In this article, we’ll explore the best and worst drinks for diabetes and how to make the best choices for supporting balanced blood sugar.

Best Drinks for Diabetes

If you have type 2 diabetes, staying hydrated can help support healthy blood glucose levels. However, some beverages make it harder to control blood sugar. The following are the best drinks to enjoy if you have type 2 diabetes.

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Water

Proper hydration is key for a number of essential bodily functions, including removing waste, transporting nutrients, and cell metabolism. And when it comes to hydration, water is the best drink option for everyone, including those who have type 2 diabetes.

Drinking enough water each day can help keep blood sugar levels balanced. While each person’s water requirement differs based on body weight and activity levels, the Institute of Medicine suggests the following daily water needs:

  • Adults assigned male at birth: 3.08 liters (about 13 cups)
  • Adults assigned female at birth: 2.13 liters (about 9 cups)

Your medical provider can share specific guidance on how many cups of water to aim for. If you dislike plain water, you can make it more appealing by:

  • Adding ice
  • Trying filtered water versus tap water
  • Infusing it with citrus or cucumber slices
  • Adding fresh herbs like mint or basil

Herbal tea

Herbal teas can add flavor and variety to your daily fluid intake. Herbal teas do not contain calories or carbohydrates. Many contain beneficial compounds, like flavonoids, that can offer health benefits.

Herbal tea options include:

  • Peppermint
  • Chamomile
  • Ginger
  • Raspberry
  • Hibiscus
  • Rooibos

Remember: Adding honey or sugar to herbal tea will affect your blood sugar. If you do not like plain herbal tea, consider boosting the flavor with freshly squeezed lemon juice or a sugar-free sweetener.

Unsweetened iced tea

People who have type 2 diabetes can enjoy black and green teas. Research has found that green tea in particular is rich in flavonoids and may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

If you want to add more flavor to unsweetened tea without adding sugar, try lemon or other fruit infusions.

Unsweetened black coffee

Caffeinated black coffee is not necessarily bad for blood sugar. Research has associated the unsweetened beverage with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and improved long-term management of blood sugar responses in the body. However, adding sugar or milk may disrupt blood sugar balance.

Sugar-free sparkling water

Seltzer water or sparkling water can make daily hydration more interesting. Many brands and flavors of sparkling water contain no added sugar or sweeteners, making them a good option for supporting daily hydration. They are also a good swap for soda or other carbonated drinks.

When selecting sparkling water, read the labels. Look for beverages that contain no calories or added sugars. You can also add citrus slices and fruit infusions to sparkling water to create an even richer flavor.

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Worst Drinks for Diabetes

When managing type 2 diabetes, some drinks are a lot worse than others for causing glucose problems.

Fruit juice

While drinks that contain 100% juice may offer some nutritional value (such as vitamin C), it’s best to consume whole fruit. Fruit juice contains all the carbohydrates but little of the fiber that’s naturally found in fruit. This can lead to blood sugar spikes.

If you are going to drink fruit juice, choose one with no added sugars and limit your intake to a half-cup (4 ounces). You can also add a few tablespoons of 100% fruit juice to plain or sparkling water, which minimizes added sugars while giving some of the desired flavor.

Soda

Most people who are managing type 2 diabetes know that soda can be problematic. One 12-ounce sugar-sweetened soda drink can contain more than 40 grams of sugars and 150 calories. If someone consumes soda from a restaurant, the cup size is usually 16 or 20 ounces, which only increases the amount of sugars consumed.

While diet soda doesn’t contain sugar, research does not definitely rule out any association with diabetes. If you are going to occasionally consume soda, diet soda is better for blood sugar control. But water, sparkling water, herbal teas, and black coffee are the best beverage choices for people who have type 2 diabetes.

Sweet tea

Unsweetened black or green tea are good options for people who have type 2 diabetes. However, sweet tea contains as much or more sugar than regular soda: A 20-ounce bottle contains about 55 grams. Sugar-sweetened beverages are associated with a higher risk for type 2 diabetes and more problems with controlling blood sugar levels.

Energy drinks

Energy drinks are typically high in carbohydrates and sugars, which can lead to blood sugar disruptions. In some cases, people are accustomed to consuming 2-3 energy drinks per day, which can lead to significant increases in blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and body weight.

Alcohol

Alcohol can lead to problems controlling blood sugar because it initially may lead to a decrease in glucose levels, but eventually could contribute to insulin resistance or overall health issues that are associated with type 2 diabetes, like obesity, heart problems, or high blood pressure. Some alcohol beverages also contain added sugars. Additionally, some research has linked regular elevated intakes of alcohol with an increased risk for prediabetes.

The American Diabetes Association suggests that people who have type 2 diabetes consume limited amounts of alcohol. That means two drinks or less per day for people assigned male at birth, and one drink or less for people assigned female at birth. Your medical provider may recommend less than this, especially if you consume medication that could interact with alcohol or you have other health-related factors that may be worsened by alcohol intake.

Bottom Line

If you have type 2 diabetes, you do not only have to drink plain water. There are many flavorful options for healthy drinks. Avoiding beverages that contain added sugars is an important part of managing blood sugar.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What drinks are best for diabetics?
If you have type 2 diabetes, the best beverages are water, sparkling water, and unsweetened herbal tea, black tea, green tea, or coffee.
Which juice is good for diabetics?
Drinking a lot of fruit juice can worsen blood sugar control. But small amounts of some 100% fruit juices may have some health benefits. Pomegranate juice is high in vitamin C, potassium, and folate. It also contains some fiber, which makes it less likely to disrupt blood glucose.
What energy drinks can people with diabetes drink?
Energy drinks typically contain higher amounts of carbohydrates and added sugars, which can contribute to increased body weight and problems managing blood sugar. Unsweetened black coffee, black tea, or green tea are better caffeinated beverage choices for people who have type 2 diabetes.
Can people with diabetes drink milk?
People who have type 2 diabetes can consume low-fat milk varieties in moderation. Milk contains some carbohydrates, and dairy beverages like chocolate milk contain added sugars that can destabilize blood sugar.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

Jennifer Nadel, MD

Dr. Jennifer Nadel is a board certified emergency medicine physician and received her medical degree from the George Washington University School of Medicine. She has worked in varied practice environments, including academic urban level-one trauma centers, community hospital emergency departments, skilled nursing facilities, telemedicine, EMS medical control, and flight medicine.