Diabetes Health: Is Coffee a Good Thing or A Bad Thing?
That morning cup of coffee or two or three is a way of life for many of us java fanatics. In fact, more than 60 % of all adults in the United States drink coffee regularly. But just because something is popular doesn’t necessarily make it good for you - especially for those of us with diabetes who have added dietary and lifestyle considerations each day.
The thing is coffee has become somewhat of a debate. Is it good for those with diabetes or not? Spoiler alert - like most things in life you’ll find that moderation is the key to living with diabetes. Still, coffee is one of those confounding subjects and here’s why.
Coffee Might Help Prevent Diabetes
That’s right, a Harvard University Study looked at the coffee habits of over 100,000 people for a period of about 20 years - a good long time! What they found was pretty incredible. Those in the group who increased their coffee consumption by one cup each day experienced an 11% lower risk of eventually developing Type 2 diabetes. At the same time, participants who decreased their coffee consumption by one cup a day saw a 17% increase in the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
In other words, there is evidence that coffee can mitigate the risk of diabetes. This is believed to be due to the many different antioxidants contained in coffee that can help reduce inflammation in the body, related to metabolic disorders like Type 2 diabetes. Additionally, coffee contains caffeine which is known to speed up metabolism and might contribute to weight loss, therefore lowering the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
Now you might be wondering, “if this is true, why isn’t coffee great for diabetes management.” Good question.
Coffee, Caffeine and Diabetes
As we’ve noted, there’s good evidence that coffee might contribute to a lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. But (yep, there’s a but). It turns out that people already diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes might have entirely different reactions to coffee and the caffeine it contains.
A growing body of evidence suggests that individuals with Type 2 diabetes react to caffeine with an increase in insulin resistance and, therefore, a rise in blood sugar.
One study cited on WebMD examined individuals with Type 2 diabetes who took a 250-milligram caffeine pill at breakfast and another at lunchtime. That’s roughly the equivalent of two cups of coffee with each meal. So, what happened? Their blood sugar was 8% higher on the days they took the caffeine pills than it was on the days they did not.
Caffeine may lower insulin sensitivity in people with Type 2 diabetes, which means the body’s cells don’t react to insulin as readily as they once did. The cells don’t absorb as much blood sugar, which is already a problem if you’re living with diabetes. Drinking too much coffee may make it more difficult to bring blood sugar back down to the normal range.
Why Does Coffee Raise Blood Sugar?
The scientific journey is still out on this one, however, there are some hypotheses worth noting.
- The caffeine in coffee can raise stress levels, releasing certain hormones, like epinephrine (adrenaline) that are known to inhibit insulin production and the ability for cells to process blood sugar.
- Caffeine blocks a protein called “adenosine”, which plays a major role in how much insulin your body makes and how your cells respond to it.
- Caffeine can cause sleep issues and a lack of sleep is known to lead to elevated blood sugar levels.
So, Should I Drink Coffee If I Have Type 2 Diabetes?
Should you drink coffee? That’s debatable. But if you want to know if you can safely enjoy coffee the answer for most people with diabetes is, yes. The key, as with many diabetes choices, is not going overboard.
According to the FDA for an average adult four or five cups of coffee is the recommended max. We think that sounds like a lot - especially for those living with diabetes.
Stick with a cup or two at the most. Here’s another hint - make that second cup decaf. It can satisfy that coffee craving without giving you more caffeine. Also, be careful what you put in your coffee. A dash of milk is probably okay (oat or almond milk is even better) but if you’re dumping spoons of sugar in your morning joe, you’re just compounding the blood sugar problems you might experience.
Getting Coffee on The Go
If you’re going to a Starbucks or your favorite local coffee shop, try to stick with simple drip coffee and always be sure to add the milk and sweetener yourself. That way you can avoid someone else deciding how much is right for you. Also, steer clear of those crazy coffee concoctions, as they are often loaded with sugars, chocolates, toffees, creams, and other not-so-diabetes-friendly stuff.
Coffee is a weird one. There is ample evidence that it might help lower the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. On the other hand, if you’ve already been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, coffee seems to be a blood sugar disruptor – lowering insulin sensitivity and elevating blood glucose levels. So, if you are currently living with diabetes, drinking too much coffee might make it harder for you to maintain proper blood sugar control. To know for sure, try testing your blood sugar after consuming coffee. Test for a week and you should be able to identify any clear patterns.
If you still have questions about coffee and diabetes, speak with your physician to learn more about fitting coffee into your diabetes lifestyle program.
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