Diabetes diet: Does caffeine in coffee and tea affect your blood sugar levels?

Drinking coffee as a way to perk you up from a slumber can have a negative effect on blood glucose (sugar) control. @Shutterstock

If you have diabetes but can't do without a cup of coffee in the morning, experts suggest drinking decaffeinated coffee. Here's why.

Whether it's from coffee, tea, soda, or chocolate, most of us consume caffeine every day. For healthy people, having up to 400 milligrams of caffeine a day appears to be harmless. But if you have diabetes, caffeine may affect blood sugar (glucose) levels or make it harder to keep your it in check.

Studies suggest that caffeine can raise blood sugar and insulin levels for those with type 2 diabetes. In one study, researchers looked at type 2 diabetes patients who took a 250-milligram caffeine pill at breakfast and another at lunchtime (this is equal to drinking two cups of coffee with each meal). The patients' blood sugar levels rose by 8% on days when they had caffeine as compared to the days without caffeine.

Caffeine and Blood Sugar: What's the link?

Researchers say caffeine can affect how your body responds to insulin, the hormone that helps your body turn blood sugar (glucose) into energy.

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Caffeine may lower your insulin sensitivity i.e. how responsive your body cells are to insulin. When the cells don't react normally to the hormone the body makes, they don't absorb as much sugar from your blood as they used to. Your blood sugar rises after meals. And when blood glucose levels rise, the pancreas makes more insulin. This is the reason why you have higher levels of insulin after meals.

Type 2 diabetes is a condition that occurs when your body doesn't use insulin effectively and your pancreas isn't able to compensate with enough insulin. So, if you have type 2 diabetes, caffeine consumption may make it tougher to control the blood sugar levels. Over time, this may lead to too high blood sugar levels and increase you risk of other complications, like nerve damage or heart disease.

There are a few theories on how caffeine affects your insulin and blood sugar levels. One possible factor, according to experts, is that caffeine increases levels of certain stress hormones, like epinephrine (also called adrenaline). This in turn prevents cells from processing sugar effectively as well as reduces the body's ability to produce enough insulin.

Another theory suggests that caffeine blocks a protein called adenosine, which plays a key role in how much insulin your body makes as well as how your cells respond to it. This means if adenosine is not doing its job well, absorption of sugar from the blood slows down.

In addition, too much caffeine can keep you awake at night and lack of sleep can lower your insulin sensitivity.

Drink decaffeinated coffee instead

If you have diabetes, just having about 200 milligrams of caffeine can affect your blood sugar. This is the amount of caffeine you get in about one or two cups of brewed coffee or three or four cups of black tea. This means black coffee is a better option for people with diabetes.

However, different people may react to it differently, depending on certain factors like age, weight and how much caffeine one usually takes.

If you have diabetes but can't do without a cup of coffee in the morning, experts suggest drinking decaffeinated coffee. This will help you get the benefits of other compounds in coffee such as magnesium, chromium and polyphenols without affecting insulin sensitivity.

Some studies suggest that the antioxidants in coffee can help reduce inflammation in your system and lower your odds of getting type 2 diabetes in the first place.

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