An estimated 100 million Americans drink one or more cups of coffee on a daily basis. While an energy surge is perhaps expected, the effects of caffeine or coffee on blood sugar levels might be less so. This has led to questions regarding whether diabetics can drink coffee safely.
Thankfully, brewing evidence shows coffee consumption is not only safe but also good for diabetics!
Coffee and Diabetes
Coffee contains numerous chemicals and compounds beyond caffeine and some have been shown to have beneficial effects on health. Caffeine is a stimulant that speeds up the nervous system and can increase mental alertness, improve focus, and relieve fatigue.
Plentiful in plant foods, coffee also contains high amounts of polyphenols, molecules with antioxidant properties known to protect from chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. Antioxidants are especially beneficial for heart and brain health and greatly reduce risk of stroke and heart disease, which diabetics are at higher risk for developing.
In addition, coffee contains marginal amounts of magnesium and chromium, two minerals known to help regulate blood sugar effectively. Although far from the best sources of these nutrients, increasing coffee intake is one way to consume more of them and better regulate blood sugar.
Furthermore, plain black coffee doesn’t directly raise blood sugar levels. This is promising for those who need to closely monitor sugar levels.
Coffee has also been associated with:
• Improved mental health
• Reduced risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
• Lower cholesterol levels
• Decreased risk of some cancers (oral, liver, prostate, and breast)
• Appetite regulation (bitterness = reduced appetite)
Interestingly, numerous studies show that the beneficial effects of coffee are enhanced by consuming about three cups of joe per day!
This generally opposes recommendations to minimize coffee consumption to one or two cups. It should be noted that this recommendation is based on caffeine content. Drinking one to two cups of caffeinated coffee and making the rest decaffeinated is less likely to exert some of the negative effects of coffee like disrupted sleep while still reaping the health-promoting properties.
All in all, a large amount of research suggests drinking numerous cups of daily coffee helps protect against the development of type 2 diabetes. Drinking coffee may decrease the risk for other chronic diseases as well.
Nonetheless, it’s still important to remember that individuals have different caffeine tolerances. Some cannot digest or absorb it well, which leads to undesirable consequences.
Healthful Coffee Tips
Despite the numerous positive health benefits of coffee, it can be bad for diabetics when loaded with added sugar and fat. The addition of heavy creams, sugars, and flavors can negate the purported benefits. This is because sugar is linked to weight gain, insulin resistance, and chronic disease risk.
Whether preparing coffee at home or trying an eclectic new cafe, the following guidelines can help keep your cup of joe in its healthful prime:
Limit Extra Sugars
Truly, the best coffee sweetener for diabetics is none. Any added sugar and calorie sweetener will spike glucose, which is detrimental to diabetics.
Consistently consuming added sugars is associated with insulin resistance, so be very mindful of coffee additions. Remember that syrup flavors are generally loaded with sugar as well and natural sweeteners will still affect blood sugar levels.
While artificial sweeteners do not add calories or sugar, research is still wary of their potential effects. Some evidence suggests the human brain perceives artificial sweeteners like sugar and therefore affects insulin levels poorly. Sugar substitutes may also increase sweet tolerance, which is maladaptive in the long run.
Swap Out Milks
Creams and milks certainly enhance the deliciousness of coffee but also add extra calories and fat. Swapping whole milk for skim milk can help keep coffee drinks within an appropriate calorie amount.
Interestingly, it might still be more beneficial for diabetics to consume whole milk in coffee compared to some plant-based substitutes. The plant milks that coffee shops utilize often include added sugars and fillers and little to no protein or fat content.
Because whole milk contains meaningful amounts of protein and fat, it will likely spike blood sugar less. Soy contains some protein but is also linked to some hormonal imbalances.
Drink Coffee After a Meal
In very stressed individuals, drinking coffee on an empty stomach can temporarily spike blood glucose levels. This is because coffee’s effect on the central nervous system can cause a surge of adrenaline, which then signals the body to release cortisol and mobilize glucose into the bloodstream.
Eating a meal with sufficient protein and fat content mitigates this effect, though.
Ask for Extra Foam or Ice
That whipped topping sure is tasty but it also adds unnecessary sugar, often in the form of high fructose corn syrup. Foam, on the other hand, is light in volume and calories and can help keep coffee drinks in check.
Finally, homemade coffee is likely the most effective way to consume its benefits. Not only will your wallet win, but you can control exactly what fills that cup.
If visiting coffee shops is a regular part of your lifestyle though, it’s at least wise to downsize that cup. This will help regulate daily calories and blood sugar levels much better.
Despite its polarization, coffee is a delicious beverage with numerous health-promoting properties. The caffeine content may promote an enhanced nervous system while antioxidants reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases. Magnesium and chromium may offer additional blood sugar support, too.
It can be perfectly safe for diabetics to regularly consume coffee. What’s more, they may confer more benefits by drinking more than 3 cups per day!
Remember, though, that adding sugars and creams can quickly turn that jolly cup of joe into a sugar bomb. Not only can it raise blood sugar levels, but encourages the development of disease.
Still important, address individual caffeine tolerances and consume coffee in its purest form after a balanced meal more often than not.
Higuera V. Diabetes and Caffeine: Pros and Cons of Drinking Coffee. Medical News Today. Updated September 29, 2020. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/311180#is-caffeine-harmful.