Summer will soon be here and restrictions are starting to lift after the pandemic lockdown. This means socializing with a drink, which raises the question of what is the best alcohol choices for diabetics.
While our Type 1 diabetic grandson is much too young to consume alcohol the fact remains that in time he will be of age and want to indulge in drinks with friends like anyone else.
While alcohol affects each person differently, there is even more reason to be cautious as a diabetic.
We know that diabetes management involves a delicate balancing of diet and insulin or other medications but it doesn’t mean that having that alcoholic drink is off-limits.
Just like with anyone, over-indulging can have serious consequences but for the diabetic, those consequences can be life-threatening.
The American Diabetes Association reports alcohol can drop blood glucose significantly, increasing the risk of dangerously low levels or even death.
Moderation is always key whether diabetic or not.
While yes, diabetics can drink alcohol, let’s learn more about how alcohol affects diabetics and see just what is the best choice of alcohol for diabetics.
Table of Contents
Your Body and Alcohol
We each have a different metabolism rate and for that reason drinking alcohol affects each of us differently. If that weren’t complicated enough, different types of alcoholic beverages can have different effects on us as well. Add to that the complications of having diabetes and it can be difficult to know what is safe to drink when out socializing.
Our liver’s job is to regulate the blood glucose levels(BGL) by steadily converting glycogen(a stored form of glucose) to glucose to be used by our cells for energy.
When we drink alcohol, the liver sees alcohol as poison and starts detoxing the body of that alcohol. When this happens the liver is not focused on releasing glucose and can seriously affect blood sugar management.
Most diabetics can safely enjoy some alcohol. The safe amounts would be the same as anyone else:
- one drink per day for women
- two drinks per day for men
Remember that alcohol affects blood sugar. A sugary drink may spike the blood sugar and drink on an empty stomach or with certain medications that may cause lows.
Drinking alcohol decreases the liver’s efficiency at releasing glucose which causes an increased risk of hypoglycemia.
Hypoglycemia(hypo) occurs when there is not enough glucose in the bloodstream. It is important to understand that when drinking alcohol, hypoglycemia can occur immediately or up to 12 hours after drinking.
Also, remember if you are taking insulin or other medications that stimulate insulin production, your insulin will continue working in your body further lowering your BGL to a dangerous level.
Another important factor to consider is that a hypo can look quite similar to being drunk:
- unsteady movements
- slurred speech
A severe hypoglycemic event can lead to mental confusion, unconsciousness, or seizures which are all extremely dangerous to your well-being and seriously affect your ability to treat yourself.
If you plan on drinking be sure those around you understand that you are diabetic and know how to help you if you experience a hypo event.
Most of us don’t usually drink straight alcohol unless we are drinking shooters, so it is important to realize the fast-acting sugary mixes’ are quickly converted to glucose and enter the bloodstream, raising blood sugar levels.
If we forget to consider these mixes’ hyperglycemia can occur once the BGL is above 160 mg/dL.
Regardless of whether you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes remember to count your carbs and monitor your blood sugar while drinking.
Some effects of hyperglycemia are:
- increased thirst
- more frequent urination
- and in severe cases DKA
Symptoms of DKA(diabetic ketoacidosis) may include nausea/vomiting, confusion, or coma. It is also important to remember that it is possible to be in DKA with normal blood sugar. Always check for ketones if you suspect DKA.
If you are considering drinking alcohol be sure to ask your doctor if you are healthy enough to drink alcohol.
This is especially important when taking medications as alcohol can react adversely to certain medications.
If you are taking insulin your doctor may want to adjust your dosage while drinking.
It is extremely important, to be honest about the amount of alcohol you drink daily and always ask your doctor to explain your medication effects.
Risks of Drinking
There are always risks when consuming alcohol:
- decreased awareness
- lack of coordination
- impaired judgment
- slurred speech
Prolonged or chronic drinking has additional risks:
- liver, heart, and pancreas damage
- shrinking of the frontal lobe
- increased risk of cancer
Regardless of whether you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes consuming alcohol may increase the risk of diabetes complications:
- neuropathy (nerve damage)
- increased triglycerides (fatty acids that increase the odds of stroke)
- increased blood pressure
- nephropathy (eye damage)
- liver damage or cirrhosis
If you are having trouble managing your blood sugar levels you may want to consider whether it is safe for you to consume alcohol.
Once you and your doctor have determined it is safe for you to consume alcohol in moderation it is time to decide what is the safe drinks to order.
Light Beer – these beers have less sugar than regular beer. Bud Select 55 might be the best overall choice since 1 beer has just 55 calories and 1.8 grams of carbs. Regular beer can have up to 15 grams of carbs for one pint.
Dry Wine – if wine is your preferred choice you will want to go with a dry red or white. There is some research suggesting dry wine may actually help your body use insulin more efficiently. If you like champagne the good news is it typically has the lowest number of carbs of any wine.
Hard liquors – if you prefer liquor order something high quality so you can enjoy it on the rocks, or have it neat. You can always add a splash of water or sparkling water to tame the taste. Stay away from sugary mixers. If you went with diet coke as a mix you would typically consume under 100 calories and 3 grams of carbs per drink.
Classic Cocktails – Sugary mixers are a definite no-no for diabetics. For that reason stick with a classic dry martini consisting of gin and preferably extra dry vermouth. This drink would be around 120 calories with only .2 grams of carbs even with the gin. Another option would be a simple vodka-cranberry, you could ask the bartender if diet cranberry is available to make it carb-less. Being aware of the ingredients is important. Mention to your bartender that you are diabetic, they may have ideas on how to create a favorite drink in a low carb version.
Skip These Drinks Altogether
Dessert Wines – these are for the sugar lover. One glass typically contains 14 grams of carbs
Cocktails made with fruit juice – these sugary drinks are full of sugar and carbs and therefore are not good for diabetics. Drinks such as margaritas, mudslides, mojitos, and daiquiris are off-limits.
Bloody Mary’s – surprisingly these are loaded with carbs, one drink can contain 15 grams of carbs without the vodka. Not a wise choice for a diabetic.
After careful research, we have learned the best alcohol choices for diabetics are definitely low sugar, low carb options.
Stick with dry wine, light beers, a classic dry martini or liquor on the rocks, neat or mixed with a splash of water or sparkling water. If you must mix with pop go with the diet version.
Naturally, consume alcohol in moderation and only after an honest discussion with your doctor. This is important because he may want to adjust your insulin dosage or explain your other medications more clearly.
Test your blood sugars before, during, and frequently after consuming alcohol.
Watch for any signs of hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia and be prepared to make any adjustments as necessary.
Ensure those with you are aware of your diabetes and understand how to help you in the event of severe hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia.
Always follow your doctor’s advice to ensure your safety.
“I am not in any way a medical practitioner, please do not rely on the information on our website as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or another healthcare provider. We only share our experiences.”
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