When you’re looking to manage your blood sugar levels, what you drink is as important as what you eat. But no single drink can lower your levels.
There’s a big range in blood sugar responses to different drinks. Some drinks have a quick impact, while others have a slower, more moderate effect.
For example, a regular soda has high amounts of sugar. In some people, it can lead to rapid blood sugar peaks. If you’re in this group, the peaks might be followed by dips in blood sugar.
Milk, by contrast, leads to slower, steadier increases in blood sugar. And some other drinks, like water, don’t affect your blood sugar at all.
Managing your blood sugar is important, whether or not you have diabetes.
ZOE’s own research shows that for some people, large dips in blood sugar are linked with feeling hungry after eating and consuming more later in the day.
And if your blood sugar levels are high for an extended period, it can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Below, we look at four drinks that could help you manage your blood sugar.
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Water keeps you hydrated without contributing any energy in the form of sugar.
Because water doesn’t contain any sugar, it won’t increase the amount of sugar in your blood. It’s a great replacement for sugary drinks.
Some people find sparkling water more appealing than still water.
And if you’re looking for added flavor (but little sugar) try adding cucumber and mint to your water. Some other options are ginger and lemon or watermelon and basil.
Drinking enough water is particularly important if you have prediabetes or diabetes, as dehydration may lead to more sugar in your blood.
2. Green tea
Green tea already boasts plenty of health benefits. And recent research suggests that it may have favorable effects on your blood sugar, too.
For instance, a 2019 meta-analysis of 27 studies found that short- and long-term green tea consumption lowered fasting blood sugar levels. However, there wasn’t any effect on levels after a meal. Caffeinated and decaf black tea, meanwhile, had no effect.
A 2020 meta-analysis reported similar results.
The duration of green tea consumption in the studies ranged from 3–72 weeks, suggesting that to get the blood sugar benefits, you need to be drinking this tea regularly.
3. Cow’s milk
There’s now good evidence that the proteins in cow’s milk could play a key role in lowering blood sugar after eating for people with and without diabetes.
Plus, the fat and protein in cow’s milk leads your stomach to empty more slowly. The result: a slower rise in blood sugar after your meal.
Setting blood sugar aside for the moment, cow’s milk also contains an essential mix of nutrients, including protein, calcium, and potassium, making it a great option when you’re thirsty.
What about plant milks?
Research shows that blood sugar responses to different plant milks can vary a lot. This is because different plant milks have different ingredients, and thus, different nutritional profiles.
Unsweetened versions are generally better at helping you manage your blood sugar levels.
We’ve compared the nutritional profiles of nine milks, including cow’s milk. Learn more about the healthiest milks here.
There’s mixed evidence of coffee’s effects on blood sugar.
Different compounds in coffee, such as polyphenols, caffeine, and magnesium, could explain this effect.
However, one 2020 study found that drinking caffeinated coffee first thing after a night of disrupted sleep led to decreased blood sugar control, compared with sleep disruption alone.
Overall, confirming how coffee affects your blood sugar will require more research.
If you’re a coffee fan or coffee curious, we’ve looked at other possible health benefits of coffee.
Drinking water is an excellent way to stay hydrated without consuming sugar. Green tea, cow's milk, and fermented milk (kefir) could also help you manage your blood sugar responses.
Coffee also contains compounds that may help regulate blood sugar, but confirming this requires more research.
What to limit
Some drinks are surprisingly high in sugar, including added sugar. If you’re aiming to improve your blood sugar management, try to limit how often you drink:
Manufacturers often use artificial sweeteners to replace the sugar in drinks. But these sweeteners are highly controversial in the world of nutrition.
While some people believe that artificial sweeteners are a healthier alternative, there’s been very little research into their long-term effects.
If you’re looking for less added sugar, here’s our article with tips for cutting back on sugar.
Why is blood sugar control important?
It’s normal for your blood sugar levels to rise and fall. But trying to keep your levels relatively steady is important, whether or not you have diabetes.
Choosing drinks that result in a slow, steady rise and fall is better for your cardiometabolic health.
And as we mentioned above, ZOE’s own research shows that people with large post-meal dips in blood sugar are more likely to feel hungry soon after eating and consume more later in the day.
Studies have shown that blood sugar responses can vary a lot between people. At ZOE, we run the world’s largest nutrition science study. Our research shows that everyone’s response to foods and drinks is unique.
You can learn how your blood sugar levels respond to different foods with our at-home test. This also gives you a picture of your blood fat responses and gut health.
With this information, our personalized nutrition program can give you advice about the best foods and drinks for you.
Find out how it works by taking our free quiz.
Other blood sugar control tips
There are other ways to help manage your blood sugar levels.
Food pairings and swaps
Some foods are more likely to cause pronounced blood sugar responses. These foods rank high on the glycemic index (GI).
You can swap high-GI foods for low-GI alternatives. For example, brown rice produces a more moderate blood sugar response than white rice.
Another way to manage your blood sugar levels is to pair high-GI foods with low ones.
Here are some examples you can try:
overnight oats with yogurt
sweet potato with mixed beans
crackers with cream cheese
Exercise has a powerful effect on your blood sugar levels. Alongside choosing the right foods, staying active can help keep your blood sugar stable.
For instance, one review of research found that people with and without diabetes who did varying amounts of vigorous exercise had improved blood sugar control for up to 3 days afterward.
Timing of eating
Your body clock plays an important role in regulating your blood sugar levels.
It’s well-established that people have better blood sugar control in the morning than the evening, though this effect is less pronounced as we age.
Studies have shown better blood sugar responses in healthy people after breakfast, compared with dinner.
Slowing down when you eat
There’s evidence that people who eat quickly have higher blood sugar than slower eaters.
You can find out more from our ZOE Science & Nutrition podcast on the topic.
What can personalized nutrition offer?
As a member of ZOE’s personalized nutrition program, you’ll learn a lot about your blood sugar responses.
During the testing period, most members wear a continuous glucose monitor for 2 weeks to see how their blood sugar levels respond to foods and drinks in real time.
After the testing phase, you’ll receive feedback on your meals in our app and learn strategies to help manage your blood sugar.
You can learn more about the program by taking our free quiz.
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No single drink can lower your blood sugar. But drinks with little or no sugar are good replacements for sugary drinks like sodas, energy drinks, and flavored coffees.
Also, research suggests that green tea, milk, and kefir may help you control your blood sugar in the longer term.
If you have diabetes, it’s important to stay hydrated. This can help you manage your blood sugar levels.
Other strategies include opting for low-GI foods and being physically active.
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