Diabetes Self-Management Blog

Your refrigerator is filling up with healthful foods! This week, we’ll start to take a look at beverages. In general, drinks that people usually keep in the fridge include an assortment of soda, juice, bottled water, and milk. Sometimes iced tea or coffee makes its way in there, too. What you keep in your fridge can depend, in part, on who else is in your household.

The issue of the “best” beverages for people with diabetes can sometimes be controversial. There are those who feel that any beverage that contains calories and carbohydrate should be limited or even avoided. Then, there are those who would rather drink a little bit of a carbohydrate-laden drink than a drink made with artificial or nonnutritive sweeteners. What’s the right answer? It just depends on what you like, what works best for you, and what your own take is on sugar versus nonnutritive sweeteners. Let’s take a look at some of the options — and of course, feel free to share your own favorites!

  • Soy milk. I’ve already talked about milk. What I didn’t mention at that time, though, is that there are other types of nondairy “milk” beverages for people who can’t drink milk or who choose not to. One of the alternative options is soy milk, which is made by soaking soybeans and grinding them up. The resulting liquid is the soy “milk.”

    Soy milk comes in fat-free, low-fat, and regular varieties. It contains about the same amount of protein as milk, but has very little calcium, so calcium is usually added. It doesn’t contain lactose (milk sugar) or casein (milk protein), so it’s appropriate for people with lactose intolerance or a milk allergy. One cup of light, plain soy milk contains 70 calories, 8 grams of carbohydrate, and 2 grams of fat. But be careful: Plain soy milk isn’t all that tasty, so soy milk manufacturers offer flavored varieties (usually vanilla and chocolate), which can significantly boost calories and carbohydrate. Always check the Nutrition Facts label.

  • Rice milk. Rice milk is usually made from brown rice. It often tastes sweet thanks to an enzymatic process that breaks down the rice carbohydrate into glucose. The downside of rice milk is that it is pretty low in protein (only about 1 gram per 8 ounces), although it’s typically fortified with calcium, iron, and B vitamins. Rice milk also comes in plain, chocolate, and vanilla flavors. Flavored rice milk may contain upwards of 30 grams of carbohydrate and 2–3 grams of fat per 8 ounces. A person might choose rice milk if he is a vegan, lactose intolerant, allergic to cow’s milk, or allergic to soy.
  • Almond milk. You might also come across almond milk in your travels. As the name implies, almond milk is made by grinding up almonds with water. Almond milk is a popular beverage in the Middle East. It’s fairly high in vitamin E, minerals, and antioxidants, and low in saturated fat. It also has no lactose. Unfortunately, almond milk is fairly low in protein compared to milk. One cup of almond milk contains about 60 calories, 8 grams of carbohydrate, 2.5 grams of fat, and 1 gram of protein.

    Be careful about using almond milk if you have any kind of nut allergy — talk to your physician or dietitian first. Also, keep in mind that the appearance, texture, consistency, and flavor of nondairy milks is usually pretty different than that of cow’s milk. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but you may need to adjust your expectations accordingly if you use any of these. You might find them easier to use, at least initially, in cooking or baking rather than for drinking.

  • Lactose-free milk. Soy, rice, and almond milk are all lactose-free. However, if you prefer cow’s milk but are lactose intolerant (unable to digest lactose, resulting in abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and diarrhea), you might give lactose-free milk a try. Lactose-free milk has been treated with lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose.

    Lactose is a type of carbohydrate that’s found in milk. Many people are unable to digest it because they lack the lactose enzyme to properly do so. In lactose-free milk, the lactose is broken down into glucose and galactose, which are simple sugars and can be readily absorbed in the GI tract. Lactose-free milk is otherwise just like cow’s milk, with the same amount of carbohydrate (13 grams per 8 ounce serving). Choose the nonfat or low-fat varieties for heart health. Also, keep in mind that lactose intolerance is not the same thing as a milk allergy. Anyone with a milk allergy should avoid animal milk altogether.

More on beverages next week!

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Stocking Your Healthful Fridge (Part 2)
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Stocking Your Healthful Fridge (Part 4)
Stocking Your Healthful Fridge (Part 5)
Stocking Your Healthful Fridge (Part 6)


Comments
  1. I can’t stand diet drinks. They leave an unpleasant aftertaste and some use artificial sweeteners that are poisonous. For myself, I have a variety including either skim, whole, or soy milk, occasionally iced coffee, and home-made Ginger beer with reduced sugar. I also have some coke which I find is good if I have an upset stomach. However, I also find it very addictive so I treat it like a medicine. There is also filtered water to avoid the so-called helpful pollutants in our water supply.

    As with cheese, I find that having a little of things I like helps me not to break out and have a real splurge.

    Posted by David Bryce |
  2. Funny, I really actually like Silk plain soy milk, and prefer it on cereal to any cow’s milk, as far as taste is concerned. Some other brands have not impressed me, but Silk is a very good brand.

    Posted by Christina |
  3. Do you have any concerns about drinking diet Cokes?

    Posted by Donna C |
  4. I use UNSWEETENED Almond milk - 40 calories per cup and 1 net carb, 0 sugars. Sweetened varieties are 60 and 90 calories with added sugars we don’t need. I don’t really care about the protein content - I get that from other foods. I use it in recipes like my low carb sugar free muffins, made without flour. Flour is equal amounts of ground flax, protein powder and ground pecans.

    The other low carb milk substitute is HEMP milk - 60 calories, 1 carb, 0 sugars. I find it best to not use ANY sugars and use the lowest carbs possible because my B/S drops and we are all looking for that.

    I won’t use aspartame because of the reported nerve damage and diabetics certainly don’t need that.

    For every 1 carb, your blood sugar goes up 5 points - keep them low!

    I believe you get carbs from vegetables - (not potatoes, oats, corn, or rice) We don’t need grains - we can get everything we need from meats/fish, berries, lemons, limes, granny smith apples, nuts and vegetables.

    Posted by Marge |
  5. Hi Donna,

    While I think water (or even seltzer water) is really the “best” beverage to be drinking, I don’t see a lot of harm in having a diet beverage here and there. There are no well done clinical trials showing that artificial sweeteners are harmful and these sweeteners have been extensively researched, so having a glass or two of a diet soda each day is probably fine. However, I’m not a big fan of someone swigging down diet soda all day long, either.

    Posted by acampbell |
  6. Hi Marge,

    Thanks for sharing info on hemp milk. I was not familiar with that, so I learned something new, as well. It’s true that most people get more than enough protein, so the low protein content of almond milk may not be so much of an issue for some. But, it’s something to keep in mind. As far as grains go, they may not be absolutely essential, but they do have much to offer (as long as they’re whole grains) in terms of health benefits, such as lower risk of heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, and obesity. Of course, the key is to include variety in one’s diet, as well as a balance of nutrients. It sounds like you’ve found a plan that works for you!

    Posted by acampbell |
  7. I hear grains are so good for you but I don’t see that in diabetics, myself anyway. I’m not taking medicines for T2 and if I eat a baked potato, my sugar skyrockets, same with corn, whole oats, whole wheat. I really believe even whole grains are detrimental because I take my B/S before I eat something and again 2 hrs. later and I can see what happens - it’s not good. I believe if you don’t have a B/S issue AND you are VERY active/athletic you can use the good carbs. Try it for yourself and check each food you eat and you’ll soon know the real truth. I do agree those grains are comfort foods but so is sugar and both raise B/S - I’ll have to pass the plate! Our ancestors worked the land and could use those carbs, we just go to the store and get what we need.
    I research all day and I came across an article from the ADA saying it’s OK to eat sugar because when you eat a potato your sugar spikes up too. I say…don’t eat sugar and don’t eat the potato! Why wear out an already worn out pancreas even more? There are plenty of foods to eat that won’t raise your B/S and make you raise your medicines.
    As far as Aspartame goes, there has never been a product with more consumer complaints.

    Posted by Marge |
  8. Sorry… one more thing. I don’t take any medicines because I know I have do it myself (does require some willpower) Also, I can’t get health coverage because I have diabetes, unless I spend $1,200. a month - that doesn’t leave me many choices - who can afford that??

    Posted by Marge |
  9. Hi Marge,

    I certainly appreciate your viewpoint and agree that you’ve found a means of controlling your glucose without medicine. Others who do take diabetes medicine are perhaps more able to “handle” carbohydrate, including whole grains. It just goes to show that diabetes management is very individualized and what may work for one person doesn’t always work for someone else.

    Posted by acampbell |

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