When you live with diabetes, dealing with alcohol can be complicated – but it’s not impossible!
In 2022, nearly 63% of Americans reported regular alcohol consumption. It’s so common that you’ve probably wondered if it’s safe to enjoy it.
If you choose to imbibe, there are so many alcoholic beverages to choose from. But what are the best and worst alcoholic beverages for people with diabetes?
In this article, we’ll list the best and worst choices for health and blood sugar management.
Is alcohol safe to drink if you have diabetes?
Drinking alcohol in moderation is safe if you live with diabetes. However, there are additional precautions that must be taken.
Alcohol is known to lower blood sugar levels. This means that if you drink, you must be aware of the symptoms of hypoglycemia and take steps to prevent it.
If you choose to drink, always carry emergency glucose, wear a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), and don’t drink on an empty stomach.
Drinking alcohol is associated with serious health risks.
If you have diabetes, you need to be especially careful about your heart health. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for people with diabetes.
Heavy drinking is also linked to high blood pressure, heart failure, and an increased risk of stroke. It can also contribute to cardiomyopathy.
Things to keep in mind if you plan to drink
For starters, it’s a good idea to choose lower-carb options that won’t raise your blood sugar drastically.
If you drink mixed drinks, choose soda water (seltzer) or diet drinks. This is because the base will have less impact on blood sugar than tonic water or sweetened sodas or juices.
Also, drinking in moderation is key.
According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate alcohol consumption is limited to 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men.
The size of one serving of the drink is given below:
- 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol)
- 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol)
- 1.5 ounces of 80% distilled spirits (40% alcohol)
The calories in alcohol have little or no nutritional value. Talk to your doctor about including alcohol in your diet if you’re trying to lose weight.
It is important to remember that alcohol can be addictive. Talk to your doctor if you are struggling with your relationship with alcohol.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration is a great free resource. Contact them at 1800-662-HELP (4357) for confidential alcohol addiction support.
The best alcoholic drinks for diabetics
Here are the best alcoholic drinks for people with diabetes.
Beer is one of the most popular alcoholic beverages, brewed for centuries around the world.
There are lower carb and “light” options available, making it a lower calorie drink that lowers blood sugar more easily.
Products like Bud Lite, Coors Light, and Miller Lite contain about 5 grams of carbohydrate per serving.
Wine, especially red, is often touted for its health benefits due to its antioxidant (resveratrol) properties.
It is also associated with improved heart health and may reduce the likelihood of diabetic retinopathy.
In addition, the wine does not contain added sugars. A typical 5-ounce glass contains less than 4 carbs, making it an excellent low-carb option.
Choose wines without added sugar and aromas. Dry red, white and champagne are also good options.
Strong alcohol is difficult because it does not contain any carbohydrates in itself.
However, strong spirits such as whiskey, gin, rum and vodka can often be mixed with sugary drinks, making them a poor choice if you have diabetes.
Alternatively, you can also mix distilled alcohol with soda or soda water, diet soda, and a squeeze of lemon or lime. This creates a mixed drink with no added sugar.
Watch out for low blood sugar after drinking hard alcohol, especially if you drink this type of alcohol on an empty stomach.
The worst alcoholic drinks for people with diabetes
Some alcoholic beverages will not support your health goals. It is best to avoid the following drinks altogether or drink them in limited amounts.
Sweet mixed drinks
Lower carb mixed drinks like rum and Diet Coke or vodka and soda are great options if you’re looking for a diabetic-friendly beverage.
However, most mixed drinks contain tons of added sugar.
Frozen margaritas, dark and turbulent cocktails, pina coladas and strawberry daiquiris can contain over 30 grams of added sugar and carbs – and that’s just for one drink!
During the evening, many sugary mixed drinks can cause high blood sugar levels that last for a long time.
Sweet mixed drinks also contain significantly more calories, making them a poor choice if you’re watching your calorie intake or weight.
Dessert wines such as sherry, port and vermouth have a higher sugar and carbohydrate content than regular wine. They often served as a digestif after a meal.
One sweet serving is almost 15 grams of carbohydrates, for which most people with insulin-dependent diabetes would need to dose insulin.
Cream liqueurs such as Bailey’s Irish Cream and Kahlua are high in sugar and fat.
In fact, cream liqueurs are almost 100% sugar.
Additionally, these liqueurs are often paired with sugar-sweetened mixers. These types of drinks are really not diabetic friendly.
Tips for healthier drinking with diabetes
Here are important things to keep in mind if you choose to drink alcohol and have diabetes:
- Choose healthier options such as light beer, dry wine or strong alcohol mixed with soda and citrus
- Avoid sweetened mixed drinks, fortified wines, and cream liqueurs
- Water drinking rate to prevent dehydration
- Limit your drinks to 1 per evening (for women) or 2 per evening (for men)
- Don’t drink on an empty stomach
- Eat a meal or snack with fat and protein before you start drinking to better stabilize your blood sugar
- Make sure your blood sugar isn’t low when you start drinking
- Always carry emergency glucose with you in case of low blood sugar
- Always drink with others who know you have diabetes and who know how to treat a low blood sugar episode
- Always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return.
- Be available on your cell phone throughout the evening (preferably with the ringer on)
- Wear a medical armband that says you have diabetes
- Test your blood sugar before, during and after drinking or better yet, wear a continuous glucose monitor (CGM)
- Before going to bed, eat a fat and protein snack after drinking to prevent low blood sugar levels overnight
People with diabetes are often confused about whether they can drink alcohol.
The answer is yes – but with some caveats. Some alcoholic beverages are better for people with diabetes than others.
First of all, it’s best to stick to beverages that are lower in both carbohydrates and added fats.
The best options for people with diabetes are light beers, dry wines, and distilled spirits alone or in combination with diet drinks, soda water, and citrus.
The worst alcoholic beverages for people with diabetes are the higher carb, fat, and added sugar options.
These include sweet mixed drinks, fortified wines and cream liqueurs. Beverages like these can wreak havoc on your blood sugar levels after just one drink, let alone several.
Keep in mind that high-proof alcohol can significantly lower blood sugar levels.
When we drink, the liver is busy metabolizing alcohol and cannot release glucose if the blood sugar level drops sharply.
Being on insulin or sulfonylureas also increases the risk of low blood sugar when drinking.
For some people, alcohol can be addictive. Contact your doctor or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration if you have any concerns about your relationship with alcohol.
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