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Coffee and Diabetes: 5 Safety and Blood Sugar Questions Answered

Medically reviewed by Robert Hurd, M.D. — Written by Anastasia Climan, RDN, CDN
Posted on January 9, 2023

Although some lifestyle recommendations stand true for pretty much everyone with diabetes, coffee can be a bit of a gray area that affects each individual differently. Studies have confirmed some notable health benefits of coffee for blood sugar control and general health. Then again, what you put in your coffee, how much caffeine you're consuming, how much you drink, and when you drink it can determine how it affects your glucose readings and how you feel.

Some people on DiabetesTeam feel like coffee affects them differently now that they have diabetes. One member shared, “Before diabetes, coffee used to make me nervous. Now that I have type 2 diabetes, coffee gives me an energy boost with no nervous feeling.”

If you’re confused about whether coffee is good, bad, or neutral for diabetes, you’re not alone. Here are some common questions and answers about drinking coffee with diabetes.

1. Is It Safe To Drink Coffee With Diabetes?

Although more research is needed to determine the full spectrum of coffee’s effects on humans, overall trends point to coffee as being generally safe for those with diabetes.

When you have diabetes, you’ll want to avoid making sudden changes, such as how much coffee you drink. Instead, you can gradually increase or decrease your intake, while monitoring any changes to your blood sugar. Making small changes and keeping an eye on your blood sugar will help you make informed lifestyle choices. You can share this information with your health care provider to come up with the best plan to manage your diabetes and find the best balance for you.

2. Does Caffeine Affect Blood Sugar?

An evaluation of several studies (called a meta-analysis) by the American Diabetes Association determined that drinking both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee is associated with a lower risk of diabetes over time. However, the effect of caffeine that is found in coffee (even the lower amount of caffeine found in decaf) varies depending on the person.

People who have already been diagnosed with diabetes can be more susceptible to short-term blood sugar fluctuations (changes) in response to caffeine. And if you have other health conditions, like heart disease or high blood pressure, you may need to limit your coffee drinking.

Some studies suggest that caffeinated coffee may help people with type 2 diabetes process glucose (glucose metabolism) better over time by increasing insulin sensitivity and, ultimately, help to avoid high blood sugar. But more long-term studies are needed to understand how caffeine can affect insulin levels and fully explain any beneficial effect that coffee might have on people with diabetes.

If you feel jittery side effects after a cup of coffee or your blood sugars seem to be higher shortly after you drink coffee with caffeine, consider switching to decaf and see if it makes a difference. Fortunately, you can gain many of the beneficial effects of coffee, even if you decrease the concentration of caffeine.

3. What Are the Benefits of Coffee for Diabetes?

Coffee is often viewed as a vehicle for caffeine, but it’s a complex beverage with a long list of components. In addition to magnesium and chromium (two minerals associated with diabetes prevention), coffee provides antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds that can be particularly helpful for people with diabetes.

Beneficial compounds and antioxidants in coffee promote various antidiabetic effects, including reducing glucose absorption and stimulating insulin release. One of the most prevalent, chlorogenic acid (CGA), shows promising effects in animal testing for glucose regulation. There’s a good chance that some of the benefits extend to humans, but more research would help pinpoint the aspects of coffee consumption that are most important for people with diabetes.

4. Should You Stop Drinking Coffee if You Have Diabetes?

Although coffee alone can be a safe choice, some people associate drinking coffee with eating sweets. A couple of DiabetesTeam members have mentioned this issue.

One said, “It seems like coffee is always next to the cookies at the grocery store. I started buying my coffee online for that reason.” Another joked, “They say coffee is a gateway drug to cookies!”

If you can’t have a cup of coffee without craving a sugary dessert, it might be a good idea to cut back on how often you drink it or switch to an alternative, like tea.

Additionally, some people find that limiting coffee helps with sleep and frequent urination, which can be common problems with diabetes.

One member shared: “I am a coffee drinker, and it makes me go to the bathroom a lot. I can’t drink it if I go out because it makes me have to go frequently.”

Another commented on avoiding the need to wake up and use the bathroom at night: “I drink coffee in the morning, but rarely later. For the rest of the day, I drink water.”

You don’t necessarily have to quit coffee altogether. But setting a cutoff time (like no coffee after 2 p.m.) can make it easier to sleep through the night without the frequent urge to urinate.

Finally, pregnancy can be a reason to monitor your coffee intake and caffeine consumption. Whether you had diabetes before pregnancy or have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you’ll need to keep a close eye on blood sugar control throughout pregnancy.

Blood sugar control can change with each trimester, and sometimes it’s necessary to be stricter toward the end of pregnancy to maintain healthy blood sugar levels until childbirth. Therefore, avoiding sudden changes, monitoring your numbers, and keeping up with prenatal appointments will help you make the right decisions.

5. What Can You Safely Add to Your Coffee?

If you’re adding sugar or flavored creamers to your coffee, consider those additional grams when looking at your carbohydrate intake for the day. “What does everyone have for a breakfast drink? I love my coffee with Irish cream creamer, but the sugars are high in the creamer,” said one member. Another responded, “I use almond or coconut milk-flavored creamers, but I look at the sugar content, too.”

Artificial sweeteners may seem like an easy substitute, but there’s evidence that they aren’t great for diabetes. If you don’t like coffee without sweetness, try adding a little less or having a smaller cup.

Plain half-and-half and unsweetened almond milk are naturally low carb. You can also purchase flavored coffee that doesn’t have any sugar but is enhanced with flavors like chocolate or hazelnut before you brew. It can take some time for your taste buds to adjust to black coffee or coffee drinks that aren’t as sweet as you’re used to. But after a while, you might find an unsweetened coffee satisfies the same craving without the sugar spike.

If you want answers to questions about drinking coffee that are more specific to your particular health situation, speak with your health care provider. Talking with your doctor or diabetes care nurse can provide better direction for caffeine intake and how to keep your blood glucose levels in a healthy range while enjoying your cup of joe.

Talk With Others Who Understand

DiabetesTeam is the online social network for people with diabetes and their loved ones. On DiabetesTeam, more than 127,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with diabetes.

Have you changed the amount of coffee you drink as a result of your diabetes diagnosis? What effects do you see on your blood sugar with caffeinated versus decaf coffee? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Posted on January 9, 2023
All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.

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Robert Hurd, M.D. is a professor of endocrinology and health care ethics at Xavier University. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Anastasia Climan, RDN, CDN is a dietitian with over 10 years of experience in public health and medical writing. Learn more about her here.

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