by Melinda D. Maryniuk, MEd, RD, CDE 

What’s to Drink?  There are so many choices!  The most important rule is – when you grab a drink, don’t assume you know what’s in it.  There are so many types of beverages and each has quite a range of calories, carbs and protein. Some drinks are good sources of protein, you can drink them instead of a eating a meal. But – be aware of the portion size. It’s easy for a 8 oz glass of milk become 16 oz when it poured into a large glass. If you pick up a bottle of a juice drink to go with your sandwich, notice if the nutrition facts label reports the information for the whole bottle or if there are multiple servings in that one bottle!

Water / Low-Calorie Drinks

Plain water is the perfect beverage. Hot or cold – drink up! If you like bubbles – go for club soda or seltzer water. Water infused with flavors are also popular (and it’s also easy to make your own) but be careful!  Some products that look like a fruit flavored water have added sugars and calories. Enjoy tea and coffee… but watch out for carbs and calories in specialty drinks. If you’re really missing something sweet, try one of the many options for diet soda or drink made with a low-calorie sweetener. Carry an insulated bottle to carry your favorite low-calorie hot or cold drink.

Dairy and Non-Dairy

Milk is a great source of protein and important nutrients like calcium and vitamin D. However, if you’re not a milk fan, or can’t tolerate lactose, there are other options. Notice the big differences in carbs and protein in the choices.

Beverage (8 oz) Calories Carbs Protein
Milk (1% fat) 110 12 8
Chocolate milk (1%) 140 20 8
Ultrafiltered milk (1% fat)* 100 6 13
Soy milk* 80 4 7
Almond milk* 40 1.5 1.5
Rice milk* 120 22 0

*low or no lactose

Fermented Drinks / Probiotics

There are many benefits to having more fermented foods, which carry probiotics. These foods help introduce good bacteria into the gut.  Try fermented milk (kefir), a drinkable yogurt or a fermented tea beverage (kombucha).  Check the nutrition facts label to know what you’re drinking.

Beverage (8 oz) Calories Carbs Protein
Kefir 120 12 14
Kombucha 35 8 0
Yogurt drink 120 17 8

Juices / Smoothies

As a general rule, it is better to eat your fruit rather than drink it.  Fruit juices are very concentrated in carbs. Add a splash to seltzer water for flavoring.  While a smoothie may seem like a good grab-n-go meal, they can be very high in carbs.

Beverage (8 oz) Calories Carbs
Tomato juice 40 10
Carrot juice 40 10
Fruit smoothie 120 30

Meal Replacements

These are useful if you’re controlling calories. For one or two meals/day, you may choose to have a specially formulated meal replacement drink.  While there are many products on the market, if you have diabetes and are controlling carbs, look for the lower carb choices.

Beverage (10 oz) Calories Carbs* Protein Fat
Glucerna Hunger Smart 180 16 15 8
Boost Glucose Control 190 16 16 7
Slimfast (low carb) 180 24 10 7

*some products contain fiber.  Check the label


Most people with diabetes can enjoy their favorite alcoholic drinks if they plan ahead. It’s best to drink while eating and avoid alcohol on an empty stomach, as it could lead to low blood glucose levels.  Cocktails may be loaded with sugar, so choose options with low-carb or carb-free mixers.

Beverage (10 oz) Calories Carbs*
Beer (12 oz) 150 14
Light beer (12 oz) 100 6
Wine (4 oz) 100 4
Distilled spirits (1 ½ oz) 100 0

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