Diabetes + Alcohol – Think Before You Drink

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on September 18, 2014 · 0 comments

After being diagnosed with diabetes, many wonder if they can still enjoy a glass of wine, a beer or an occasional cocktail. The simple answer is, yes. As with many issues related to diabetes management there is good news and bad news. The good news is that light to moderate use of alcohol lowers the risk for diabetes and raises your HDL (good) cholesterol. The bad news is that heavy drinking increases the risk for prediabetes and diabetes and can complicate management of your condition.

There are a number of things to consider when adding alcohol to your diabetic meal plan. The amount you drink is the key. It is wise to limit alcoholic drinks to 1 a day for women and 2 for men.

1 Alcoholic Drink Equals:

  • 12 ounces beer – 1 bottle or can
  • 1.5 ounces 80 proof distilled spirits – 1 shot glass
  • 1 ounce 100 proof distilled spirits – 2 tablespoons
  • 5 ounces wine – 1 moderate sized wine glass

Always drink alcohol with food because drinking on an empty stomach can make your blood sugar drop too low. Alcohol breakdown in the body takes priority over the breakdown of carb, protein or fat. Absorption starts in the mouth and alcohol continues to be absorbed in the stomach and the small intestine. Eighty to 95% of the alcohol you drink is absorbed into the body. Eating before you drink or at the same time you have a drink slows the rush of alcohol into the body.

Hard alcoholic drinks — gin, vodka, whiskey, rum — do not contain carbs so they do not require insulin to be used for energy and they do not cause blood sugar to go up. Mixed drinks and wine do contain carbs and may raise your blood sugar. They need to be counted into your daily carb intake.

If you drink daily, the calories from alcohol need to be added to your daily calorie intake. If you drink very infrequently, alcohol calories do not need to be counted. Infrequent drinking really does mean occasionally, like once a week.

To find out more about managing diabetes and the carb and calorie values of over 190 alcohol drinks take a look at one of my latest books The Diabetes Counter, 5th Ed. (Pocket Books).


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