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)
Stocking Your Healthful Fridge (Part 1)
Stocking Your Healthful Fridge (Part 3)
Stocking Your Healthful Fridge (Part 4)
Stocking Your Healthful Fridge (Part 5)
Stocking Your Healthful Fridge (Part 6)


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