If you’re a coffee drinker and live with diabetes, you may be familiar with the difficulty that drinking a regular morning cup of joe can be. Coffee is one of the most popular drinks on the planet, with the average U.S. adult drinking two 8 oz cups of coffee per day.
Whether you spike or crash, drinking and enjoying coffee is made infinitely harder when living with diabetes. So, what’s the deal? What exactly does coffee do to your blood sugars, and how can you help mitigate the damage?
This article will outline the effects that coffee has on blood sugar levels and ways you can prepare and guard against any negative side effects from your morning routine.
What Is It About Coffee That Affects Blood Sugar?
The majority of people with diabetes see a spike in their blood sugar when drinking coffee, and it’s not a mystery that a lot of the cause can be attributed to the caffeine content in your morning cup.
According to the Mayo Clinic, for people with diabetes, about 200 milligrams of caffeine (about one to two 8 oz cups of plain, brewed coffee) can cause a spike. Caffeine causes insulin resistance and can negatively affect postprandial blood sugar levels, essentially requiring you to take more insulin for foods eaten when you drink caffeinated beverages. Some people even need to bolus for drinking plain, unsweetened, black coffee that has no carbohydrates.
Ironically, long-term coffee consumption is associated with higher insulin sensitivity and lower rates of type 2 diabetes, but in the short term, the caffeine content causes a spike in blood sugars and lower insulin sensitivity. Caffeine is also an appetite suppressant, so its overall effect is sometimes balanced out.
The best option for people with diabetes who are struggling with blood sugar spikes post cup, however, may be to opt for decaf: drinking decaffeinated coffee seems to curb blood sugar spikes in individuals.
Why Does Caffeine Cause Blood Sugar Spikes?
Caffeine spikes blood sugars in a number of ways, including:
- Naturally raising levels of certain stress hormones, epinephrine, and adrenaline, making you more insulin resistant when you drink it
- Blocking the protein adenosine, tamping down the amount of insulin your body produces (if you’re type 2), making it more difficult for the body to process carbohydrates as quickly, spiking your blood sugar levels.
- Inhibiting sleep, when consumed later on in the day. Lack of sleep for even a few days has proven to lower insulin sensitivity and increase insulin resistance, keeping blood sugars stubbornly high
And it isn’t only the caffeine found in coffee affecting blood sugars. A 2004 study showed that taking a caffeine pill before eating resulted in higher post-meal blood sugars and insulin resistance for people with type 2 diabetes. The same can be inferred for caffeinated sodas, chocolate, tea, energy drinks, and even protein bars.
Other Factors That Contribute to Higher Blood Sugars
The caffeine content in coffee is not the only thing to blame for higher blood sugar levels, however. Many people prefer coffee first thing in the morning, right when they’re often already experiencing the higher blood sugars associated with the dawn phenomenon, and combining the two can make it harder to get levels back under control.
Additionally, beware of added sugars, syrups, and sweetened-dairy products that can quickly add empty calories (and carbohydrates!) to your morning brew. The difference in carbohydrate counts between one cup of black coffee (1 gram) and a Grande Frappuccino from Starbucks (50 grams) is stark and can make all the difference between a “good” blood sugar day and a difficult one. Having coffee beverages that are high in saturated fat and sugar on a regular basis can contribute to both insulin resistance and the development of type 2 diabetes.
Even an innocuous latte can still have anywhere between 12-25 grams of carbohydrates, simply from the sugars found in milk.
Ways to Combat the ‘Coffee Spike’
There are many ways to help combat the blood sugar spike from coffee, including:
- Try not drinking coffee first thing; go for a 20-minute walk to combat the dawn phenomenon before you imbibe
- Switch to decaf, or even half-caf
- Cut down on your overall consumption (one to two 8oz cups of brewed coffee per day is plenty)
- Do not drink coffee late in the day (try to drink it before noon), so it does not negatively affect your sleep, and thus insulin resistance
- Drink only black coffee, cold brew coffee, or coffee with a touch of (unsweetened) dairy or non-dairy milk, cream, or half-and-half
- Do not add syrups or sugar to your coffee; opt for stevia instead
- Add vanilla extract, cinnamon, or sugar-free syrups to your coffee for extra taste
- If you regularly spike, even from black coffee, aim to pre-bolus before a cup, taking a dose for your coffee 10-15 minutes before drinking
- Get some morning exercise in immediately after drinking a cup to help curb the spike
- Talk with your doctor about additional strategies to incorporate coffee into a healthy diet
The routine of a morning cup of coffee is essential to millions of people around the world, but a blood sugar spike is never enjoyable. Incorporating some of these strategies can help you mitigate the negative effects on blood sugar, while still allowing you to enjoy what you love! A little planning and preparation can make all the difference. And that’s definitely something to celebrate. Cheers!
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