Coffee, milk, juice, and soda – you might enjoy them every day, but these beverages are more than simple refreshment – the water they contain is essential for staying hydrated and keeping every system in your body functioning at peak performance. How much water do you need? The oft-heard advice of drinking eight glasses of water a day is one guideline. In my experience, you can let your thirst alert you to when you need to consume fluids; for your personal intake goals, check with your healthcare team.
You may wonder how caffeinated beverages fit into the overall hydration picture. The caution that drinks with caffeine only dehydrate, and don’t count toward your daily fluid intake, is actually not true. Your body will use the larger part of any caffeinated beverage that you drink rather than excreting it. Which is important if, like me, you can’t give up that morning cup (or two) of joe! (Read more about drinking coffee for those living with diabetes.)
I’ve found, though, that many people may not be as concerned about making healthy choices with what they drink as they are about what they eat. But they – and you – should be! We all can literally pour on the pounds by making unhealthy beverage choices. What’s the best way to quench your thirst without expanding your waistline or spiking your blood sugar? Use these guidelines for making better choices:
Water is best
Ordinary water is the easiest, cheapest, and healthiest way to stay hydrated! It has no calories or carbs, and it’s available almost everywhere. There’s nothing wrong with drinking tap water, but the taste can vary depending on where you live. If your tap water has a not tempting flavor, you can try adding a water filter to your tap, using a water filter pitcher, or buying bottled water.
Accessorize your water
If, on the other hand, you think plain water is boring, there are plenty of ways to add flavor. Add a slice of lemon, lime, or orange to your next glass. Add a sprig of fresh mint, basil, tarragon, or dill to a pitcher of water and chill it overnight for an herbal refresher the next day. Fresh vegetable and fruit-flavored waters can be delicious, as well. To make them, puree a few slices of fresh fennel, a chopped celery stalk, a peeled cucumber, a tomato, or a handful of strawberries, blueberries or raspberries with a cup of water in a blender. Pour the mixture through a sieve into a two-quart pitcher, discard the solids, and fill the pitcher with cold water. Refrigerate until chilled and enjoy flavorful thirst-quenching water. Another alternative is the small sugar-free flavor packets, such as Crystal Light1, that you can use to add flavor to water. (Read more about artificially sweetened beverages below.) Remember to account for any carbs you add as you figure your meal plan.
Keep coffee & tea time simple
If you like an afternoon cup of coffee or tea, keep it simple and drink it unsweetened, or with artificial sweetener. Brew your own unsweetened iced tea at home – either herbal or caffeinated – to enjoy with meals and snacks. Avoid specialty coffee and tea drinks in restaurants, which can have enough calories and carbs for an entire meal!
If you’re on the go and need a beverage, look for unsweetened bottled teas and flavored waters. Be sure to read the labels to make sure there are no added sugars.
Make a date with dairy
To quench your thirst with a nutritious drink, try a glass of skim milk or make a smoothie with fresh fruit, skim milk or fat-free yogurt, and ice cubes. Just keep track of the carbs in the ingredients you use, and make sure your drink fits into your meal plan.
Be judicious with the juice
Fruit juices can contain as much – or more – sugar than a regular soft drink. Juices do contain vitamins and minerals, though, and are nutritionally better for you than soft drinks. However, you have to closely watch the amount of carbs in juices: A four-ounce (that’s just one-half cup) glass of orange juice has fourteen grams of carbs. If you like to enjoy a glass of juice with breakfast, it’s possible to work it into your meal plan, but it’s not the best way to stay hydrated or to get a serving of fruit. It’s better to eat a piece of whole fruit, which contains fiber, digests slower, and keeps you feeling full longer than juice.
To enjoy the refreshing flavor of fruit juice with half the carbs and calories, pour half a serving of juice into a glass and fill the other half with cold tap water, sparkling water, or seltzer water. You’ll still get the flavor of the fruit, but in a more healthful way.
If juice is a favorite beverage, try a vegetable juice cocktail as a refreshing drink. Though these drinks still have carbs (about eleven grams per cup), they can be a good option if you’re living with diabetes. Read the label carefully on all fruit and vegetable juices to make sure you are getting one hundred percent juice with no added sugars.
Many people living with diabetes drink fruit juice when they are experiencing low blood glucose to quickly raise their blood sugar level. Portable single-serving juice boxes are easy to keep on hand, and if juice is your go-to fix for hypoglycemia (with your health care team’s approval), it’s okay to have. In that case, you’re not drinking the juice to address thirst, you’re drinking it to get your blood sugar up as quickly as possible.
Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages
Sugary drinks contain little to no nutrients, they contain only empty calories from sugar. This includes soda, energy drinks, sweetened tea, and fruit punch. A twelve-ounce can of regular cola has about 130 calories and thirty-four grams of carbs, about the same amount of carbs you would get from eating eight teaspoons of sugar!
Diet drinks: Savior or saboteur?
If you’re someone who regularly drinks sugar-sweetened beverages, switching to artificially sweetened versions will likely reduce your calorie and sugar intake. However, drinking diet drinks does not automatically mean you’ll lose weight or that you’ll have better control of your blood sugar. While artificially sweetened drinks may help you take in fewer calories and carbs, they still have to be part of the overall balance of the calories and carbohydrates you consume every day versus the calories you burn every day in order to lose weight and manage blood sugar.
There’s no conclusive research, but based on my own experience and that of friends and family members trying to shake a sweet tooth, the more sweet things you eat or drink – whether artificially sweetened or not – the more you sometimes want them. As a former diet drink junkie, when I gave up artificially sweetened soft drinks and tea, my craving for all sweet foods declined. It was a struggle at the beginning to break the habit of drinking fizzy soda all afternoon. And during my first week of drinking unsweetened tea, the flavor made me think I was being poisoned! After about ten days, though, my taste buds woke up, and I had a revelation. All the teas I’d been pouring artificial sweeteners into for years were delicious on their own! All I had tasted was the “sweet,” not the flavor of the drink itself.
You have to decide for yourself whether or not artificially sweetened drinks are helping or hurting your overall goals for good health and living well.
Jackie Mills is a registered dietitian who develops recipes for such national magazines as Cooking Light and Family Circle, as well as for books such as the American Medical Association Type 2 Diabetes Cookbook. She was formerly the food editor at Redbook magazine. Mills is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
1Crystal Light is a registered trademark of Kraft Foods Global, Inc.
© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience