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The best diabetes-friendly drinks

We asked dietician Genevieve Jardine to answer this question about diabetes-friendly drinks from Diabetic South Africans: “My daughter is on insulin injections and can’t inject for every cold drink she wants. Everybody says aspartame is bad for you, so what can she drink except water?” Di-ann Reid.

Diabetes-friendly drinks

A lot of the excess sugar in our diet comes from drinks that are high in sucrose and fructose: regular fizzy drinks, energy drinks and also fruit juices. These not only have an effect on blood sugar, but also increase overall energy intake, which can lead to weight gain. That’s why these drinks aren’t a good idea for diabetics.

So what else can you drink?

Artificially sweetened diet drinks

These are pretty much kilojoule free and don’t raise blood sugar levels, but most of them contain aspartame – the topic of a lot of debate for many years. Although aspartame has been linked to increased risk of cancer, mood disorders and even diabetes, nothing has been proven and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has approved diet drinks with aspartame, with a limited daily intake. So it’s a good idea to reduce the number of artificially sweetened drinks you have, especially if you’re using other sweeteners in tea and coffee.

Fruit juices

These often confuse people with diabetes, because they say “no sugar added” on the label. Although there is no added sugar, fruit juices are high in fructose sugar that can push up blood glucose levels. They are a concentrated form of natural sugar from the fruit – you get all the sugar, but none of the fibre that’s good for you. A small glass of fruit juice can have twice as much sugar as a piece of fruit!

Tip: When looking at food labels, always check the total carbohydrate content (per serving size) and not just the sugar content.

Genevieve Jardine, Dietician

Here are some ideas for drinks with and without artificial sweeteners:

One-a-day drinks – low carb, with artificial sweeteners

  • Diet fizzy drinks (Tab, Coke Light, Coke Zero, Sprite Zero, Fanta Zero etc.)
  • Diet cordials (Brookes Low-Cal etc.)
  • Light iced teas (Lipton Iced Tea Lite etc.)
  • Light flavoured mineral water

Everyday drinks – low carb, no artificial sweeteners

  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice in ice-cold water.
  • Hot or cold flavoured herbal teas (no sugar added).
  • All unflavoured sparkling water.
  • Chopped up fruit pieces (like strawberries, lemon or orange) soaked in water for the fruity flavour without the sugar.

Treat drinks – medium carb

These drinks have 6 to 8g of carbohydrate per serving – half the amount of normal drinks!

  • 200ml tomato juice (low GI).
  • 150ml Lamberti’s low GI juice.
  • 100ml Energade Champ (low GI).

What do you think is a diabetic-friendly drink? Tell us on Diabetic South Africans!

What to read next?

Eat healthy for diabetes: The one article you need to read about diabetes and diet.

What is normal blood sugar? Here are the numbers to aim for if you have diabetes – and what normal blood sugar looks like.

How to lose weight with diabetes: Expert tips to help you succeed.

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  1. Naren Diah Naren Diah

    Is energade lite gud for diabetics

    • It’s better than normal Energade, but still not good for diabetics… Water is good 🙂

  2. Hi, I’m on “Humulin Insulin” and I honestly don’t know what to drink. I have a cup of Latte daily with 1 packet of sweetener just for flavor. Am I wrong by doing this?
    What other beverages can you recommend. I’ve tried to stay away from fruit juices etc

    • Hi Bongane!
      A latte a day with sweetener doesn’t sound like a bad idea – how is your blood sugar afterwards? Caffeine affects everyone differently.
      Sparkling water with lemon is probably the safest, or sugar-free cordial is fine. All teas are good too. It’s tricky!

      • l.m l.m

        hi I think I have a low blood sugar but not sure
        I get lot of headaches my leg get a cramp but if I have something sweet it stop for a while what does that mean
        how can you me for the future
        and what medication do you suggest please help

        • Hi Lucky! The only way to know if you have diabetes or low blood sugar is if you get your blood sugar checked. It’s a simple fingerprick blood test, only takes 5 mins and costs about R30 – you can get it from any clinic or pharmacy…

  3. Adrienne Gurnell Adrienne Gurnell

    What happened with the Daly’s low calorie drinks – Checkers used to supply?

What do you think?

Sweet Life is a registered NPO/PBO (220-984) with a single goal: to improve diabetes in South Africa. We are funded by sponsorships and donations from aligned companies and organisations who believe in our work. We only share information that we believe benefits our community. While some of this information is linked to specific brands, it is not an official endorsement of that brand. We believe in empowering people with diabetes to make the best decisions they can, to live a healthy, happy life with diabetes.