Diabetes and Coffee: Can I Still Drink It?

Can I Still Drink Coffee With Type 2 Diabetes?

When I see a patient newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, they are scared. Some people walk into the room crying. Others start firing questions, rapid-fire. Others will have an organized list of questions that they neatly check off as we cover information, then ask whatever is left at the end of the appointment.

I hear lots of different things:

  • “Do I really need to exercise?”
  • “Do I need to give up donuts with my grandkids?”

However, the question that I hear most often is “Can diabetics still drink coffee?”

I can understand. If I was receiving a new medical diagnosis and I was questioning every habit, I’d be worried too. And if I was considering my daily caffeine fix, I’d be in tears with the best of them.

To answer your question about diabetes and coffee, I have good news for you. You don’t have to give up coffee. Though, you may have to change how you drink it.

The Research Between Diabetes and Coffee

As we all know, the reported benefits of coffee ebb and flow. Tonight, coffee may be a health food but tomorrow, a new study may report that it is bad for us.

Diabetes and coffee got a bad reputation in regards in the last decade.

WebMD, a research study performed by Duke University researcher James D. Lane, Ph.D. found that caffeine made controlling blood sugars difficult. The study found that blood sugar levels were 8% higher on the days that caffeine was ingested.

However, new research from 2016, discussed by Diabetes Self-Management, states that coffee-drinking participants without diabetes had an average fasting glucose level of 76 mg/dl compared with 79 mg/dl for nondrinkers. While coffee-drinking participants with diabetes had an average glucose level of 105 mg/dl compared with 128 mg/dl for nondrinkers. Pretty outstanding results!

The first study was only performed on 10 participants. It was also using continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) which in 2008, may not have been very accurate, compared to CGM of today.

What do I think of this research? I think that it is inconclusive – it is not enough to say “stop drinking your coffee!” More research needs to be done before we can ascertain the actual benefit or harm of coffee to diabetes.

In the meantime, let’s focus on drinking a better cup of coffee.

Diabetes and Coffee: How to Drink Your Cup

If I had it my way, every person with diabetes would drink their coffee black or with a splash of unsweetened almond milk.

One of the things we talk about as diabetes educators are carbohydrate balance.

Carbohydrates increase blood sugar.  They can be found in foods like fruit, bread, pasta, baked goods, potatoes, yogurt, ice cream, and rice. They are also found in beverages, such as milk, coffee creamers, juices. And those sugar packets that you add to your coffee? Yep. Carbohydrates.

But – carbohydrates are not the bad guy when you have diabetes. Yes, they do increase your blood sugar. You need carbohydrates for adequate body function, for energy.

Let’s put this into perspective.  

You sit down at breakfast, pour a bowl of cereal with milk, cut a banana into the cereal, then pour a cup of coffee. To your coffee, you add milk. You don’t measure, but by the time you’re done, it is nice and light. Then, you add two heaping spoonfuls of sugar.

This breakfast may be carb-heavy for the average person. One easy way to cut back on the carbs is to adjust the carbs you are drinking – for example, drinking your coffee black, or using artificial sweeteners and creamers without carbs.

The Sweetened Cup

When my patients learn that coffee is not contraindicated, they typically rejoice. Then every now and again there is a patient who says, “Well, if I don’t have to stop drinking coffee, I’m drinking it how I want.”

And to you I say, you do you! Go for it. Just know that if you choose to drink your carbohydrates, you’ve got to find the carb balance somewhere.

If you’re choosing to drink your carbs, you may have to choose to eat fewer carbs then in order to achieve your blood sugar goals.

I generally recommend that when I see a new patient, they also see a registered dietitian for carb counting education, but would strongly recommend it for the patient who desires to incorporate their sweetened cup of coffee into their diet.

Resources

Diabetes Self-Management (Coffee and Diabetes) 

WebMD (Caffeine Risks May Rattle Diabetic People)

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