Cough, Cold, Congestion…AND DIABETES?

This article is for informational purposes only.  Please consult with your MD before taking any cough and cold medications!

During cough and cold season, the cold remedy aisle at the local supermarket or pharmacy is packed with people looking for a fix for their coughing, sneezing, sniffling and aching due to the common cold, virus, or flu. Sales of cough and cold syrup and cough drops soar. Tis the season to buy tissues!

Be advised that many cough/cold syrups are made palatable by adding some form of sugar or carbohydrate. For those with Met A, the inclusion of carb has no great significance and allows the “spoonful of medicine” to go down. For those with Met B, this hidden carbohydrate can have major consequences regarding insulin release, fat gain, blood sugar readings, cravings…and all the symptoms of uncontrolled Met B.

Liquid DayQuil and NyQuil contain significant carbs. A 2 Tbls dose contains 19 grams of carbohydrate! And that 19 grams of carbohydrate comes straight from pure sugar used to make the cough syrup taste more palatable.

As we know, just being “under the weather” with a cough, cold, or flu causes blood sugar and insulin release to rise. If you are feeling sick for a few days, it is a great idea to temporarily retreat to Step 1. The rise in stress hormones caused by illness/healing automatically causes a rise in blood sugar, insulin release, and fat gain…cravings, too! Step 1 is a great safety net. If it’s just a mild cough, a slight runny nose….no problem. But if you are coughing, sneezing, head is aching, nose is running, joints are aching….you should consider a spoonful of Step 1.

So, what to do about cough/cold medicines? Opt for the capsules or caplets! I think we feel that the “cough syrup” is more effective but, except for the flavoring, coloring, and sugar…the medication is the same.

As for cough drops, regular cough drops are sweetened with SUGAR. I’m sure you’ve seen “sugar free” cough drops…but as you know, sugar free means just that…SUGAR free. There can be other sweeteners used in the sugar free cough drops that can cause a blood sugar rise.

Sugar free cough drops are usually sweetened with sugar alcohols (which do cause insulin release) and still be labeled sugar free. Remember, when we read labels, we take total carb grams – dietary fiber grams to find net carb grams. We DO NOT subtract away sugar alcohol as it will impact blood sugar, insulin, and MM.

The majority of sugar free cough drops contain 4-5 calories/drop. The sweeteners are acesulfame K, aspartame, sucralose, and isomalt. Isomalt accounts for most of the carb grams in these cough drops. Although it is one of those sweeteners that does not fully digest in the GI tract and doesn’t cause a full blown rise in blood sugar, it is not totally “free.” Also, isomalt is known to cause diarrhea, cramping, bloating in large doses. (Not what you need on top of your cold!).

Here are a few of the most popular Sugar Free Cough Drops with their elusive carb content. It’s hard to find carb grams on these products!

My advice on sugar free cough drops is try to keep them to one cough drop every 3 hours or so. And don’t count the carb grams in that one drop. I’m being conservative but some people pop one drop after another and this can cause a problem, especially on Step 1.

Hall Defense Sugar Free Cough Drops:

1 drop= 3 grams carb (acesulfame K, aspartame, isomalt)

Cold-Eeze Sugar Free Cold Remedy Lozenges:

1 drop= 2.24g of carbohydrates

Ricola Throat Drops Sugar Free

1 drop = 2.24 grams carbohydrates (isomalt)

Equate Sugar Free, Walgreens Sugar Free (acesulfame K, isomalt, sucralose, hydrogenated starch)

Helpful Home Remedies for Coughs, Colds, Congestion…..

1. Get plenty of rest

2. Take your typical vitamins and perhaps add 500mg Vitamin C to your second set vitamins until your cold is gone. ( add to the vitamin set that includes B complex)

3. Drink lots of calorie free/caffeine free fluids, including warm liquids like herbal tea or chicken broth

4. If you have gas forced air heat and the heat is on in your home..put a small bowl of water on the floor beneath your heat ducts to add some “humidity” to your bedroom . Change water daily.

5. If you need a cold medicine, with MD’s permission, you are better off with the capsule or caplet form instead of the syrup.

6. Remember that sugar free cough drops are not carb free. In most instances, 2 sugar free drops will be a 5 gram “Counter” in the morning, again in the afternoon, and in the evening…if you choose to use them.

7. Wash hands often throughout the day

8. Gargle with warm water and a pinch of salt a few times/day.

9. Take a steamy shower to moisturize nasal passages and relax you.

10. Dab a small amount of mentholated salve under your nose to help open breathing passages


About Diane Kress

Author of The New York Times Bestseller; The Metabolism Miracle, The Metabolism Miracle Cookbook, and The Diabetes Miracle. and The Metabolism Miracle, Revised Edition. Owner, developer, and administrator of The Metabolism Miracle's support site: Registered Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Educator, Email:
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