1 March 2018



Many factors influence what, when, and how much we drink, including taste, cultural background, religious beliefs, budget, health, and social occasion ... Drinking lubricates most social functions. It’s one of life’s pleasures. So, let’s look at some of the more popular options.

A round of drinks

Water Plain water is the best drink to quench your thirst: it is the most refreshing, provides zero kilojoules, plus a few minerals. However, it doesn’t seem to work so well socially – few people pop down to the pub for a couple of rounds of water.

Mineral water (with ice and a slice of lemon) is socially more acceptable. Plain mineral water (still or sparkling) contains relatively small amounts of sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium. Fruit flavoured varieties are increasingly popular and available in sugar sweetened or intensely sweetened (“diet”) varieties. Sugar sweetened versions provide around 400kJ (100 calories) and 24g of carbohydrate (sugars) per cup (250ml); intensely sweetened varieties provide some 12kJ (3 calories) and 0.5g of carbohydrate (sugars) per cup. If you are watching your weight or blood glucose levels, plain or intensely sweetened options are your best options.

Tea/coffee A cuppa with family or friends is a popular social activity in most parts of the world. Black tea or coffee provides very little energy (around 13kJ or 3 calories) or carbohydrate (less than 1g) per cup. Adding milk or sugar increases both of course, with a cup of unsweetened white tea or coffee providing about 75kJ (18 calories) and around 2g of carbohydrate; and a cup of sweetened (2 level teaspoons of sugar) white tea or coffee about 235kJ (55 calories) and around 10g of carbohydrate – enough to raise blood glucose levels in most people with diabetes if the sugar is sucrose (GI=65).

However, if you sweeten your tea or coffee with an intense sweetener like aspartame, saccharin, sucralose or stevia, you don’t appreciably increase its energy or carbohydrate content, and so it won’t adversely affect blood glucose levels or body weight.

Low joule/calorie or “diet” soft drinks Unlike water, tea or coffee, these soft drinks probably shouldn’t be consumed daily, but they are still good choices when socialising as an alternative to alcohol. Carbonated beverages have a low pH (they are acidic), and in theory, frequent consumption may increase the risk of developing tooth decay which is a serious health issue for many people. However, they have no effect on blood glucose levels and provide very few kilojoules (around 5kJ or 1 calorie per cup). There is good evidence that substituting regular soft drinks with diet varieties will help people to lose weight.

Fruit juices and fruit drinks People enjoy these soft options at social gatherings. They are a source of calories, vitamin C, dietary fibre and carbohydrate. On average, they provide approximately 400kJ (95 calories) per cup, and are an important source of vitamin C providing on average 113mg per cup, which is more than twice the RDI (45mg per day). Most fruit juice contains a small amount of dietary fibre, but higher fibre varieties are becoming increasingly common.

Fruit juices and drinks have a low pH and are a source of fermentable carbohydrate for cariogenic bacteria. Frequent consumption may therefore increase the risk of developing tooth decay. On average, fruit juices and drinks provide 22g of carbohydrate per cup. All fruit juices made from low GI fruit and most fruit drinks have a low GI, however a 250ml serve of most varieties has a medium glycemic load.

Sugar sweetened soft drinks Save these for special occasions. Like fruit juices and drinks, they have a low pH and are a source of fermentable carbohydrate for cariogenic bacteria, and consumption is associated with increased risk of tooth decay. On average, a small glass (250ml) of sugar sweetened soft drink provides around 440kJ, 27g of carbohydrate (around 2 exchanges), and most varieties have a medium glycemic index, and a medium–high glycemic load, and consequently they will raise blood glucose levels in people with diabetes.

Hard drinks For many people, social occasions include the enjoyment of alcoholic beverages in moderation. We have discussed them in detail in previous issues of GI News (See “Cheers” in Read More).

The bottom line Plain water is unquestionably the best option for quenching thirst, but it’s rarely the first choice when drinking socially with family, friends and colleagues. There’s an increasingly large variety of beverages out there so choose wisely for your health and enjoyment.

Read more:

Dr Alan Barclay  
Alan Barclay, PhD is a consultant dietitian. He worked for Diabetes Australia (NSW) from 1998–2014 . He is author/co-author of more than 30 scientific publications, and author/co-author of  The good Carbs Cookbook (Murdoch Books), Reversing Diabetes (Murdoch Books), The Low GI Diet: Managing Type 2 Diabetes (Hachette Australia) and The Ultimate Guide to Sugars and Sweeteners (The Experiment, New York).

Contact: You can follow him on Twitter.