With this summer’s scorching heat, it’s important to stay hydrated, but if you have diabetes, you need to think about what you’re drinking. Many beverages can add lots of calories and carbohydrates to your diet, but there’s a way to make healthy choices.
Drinking beverages with sugar, added or natural, can make diabetes particularly difficult to manage. Beverages are digested very quickly and make blood sugar rise fast.
The sugar factor
You may be surprised to find that in most cases, fruit juices actually have more carbs and calories than regular sodas.
Did you know that 12 ounces of regular soda has 136 calories and 34 grams of carbs? That’s equal to almost 9 teaspoons of sugar. And a 12-ounce glass of orange juice (no sugar added) has 168 calories and 42 grams of carbs, equal to about 11 teaspoons of sugar!
With diabetes, it’s best to choose beverages that meet the criteria for a “Free Food,” that is fewer than 20 calories and fewer than 5 grams of carbohydrates in the amount you plan to drink. And always read the label on your beverages for the serving size. Often a 20-ounce bottle lists the serving size as 8 ounces and servings per container as 2.5.
The real story about sports drinks
You may take along a sport drink or fitness water when you’re exercising, but these drinks may also have significant amounts of calories and carbs, so check the nutrition label. Unless you exercise at a very intense level for an extended period of time, water is the best beverage when exercising.
The better choices are?
There are a wide variety of calorie-free diet beverages available—diet sodas, diet iced teas, flavored waters, some sports drinks, diet fruit drinks, and lemonades. Sweetened with sugar substitutes, they can be enjoyed in moderation.
The most refreshing and best drink choice is always water. Try flavoring it with slices of lemon, lime, watermelon, or cucumber. If you like some fizz without added carbs or sugar substitutes, try sparking water or club soda. These drinks can also be flavored with slices of lemon or lime.
Unsweetened iced tea and coffee are also good choices with flavored ones for variety. If you add a packet of sugar substitute to home brewed iced tea, it’s about one quarter of the amount of sugar substitute that would be in a commercial diet iced tea. For “creamy” iced coffee, add skim milk or fat-free half and half.
With a little planning, you can enjoy refreshing drinks during the lazy, hazy days of summer and still keep your diabetes in control.
Jacqueline Roberts, RD, CDE, LDN, is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Lancaster General Health's Diabetes and Nutrition Center.