Alcohol and Diabetes: Everything You Need to Know

If you have diabetes, regardless of type, you’ve probably heard a great deal about the importance of making healthy lifestyle choices. From exercising, to watching what you eat, it can feel like your entire life is dictated by your condition. In addition to being told which foods are best, you’ve likely also been told which drinks are best. Within this discussion, alcohol consumption has undoubtedly been a topic.

But why?

Why is alcohol so commonly part of the diet discussion? And if you’ve been told that alcohol is not off limits, but should be consumed in moderation, what exactly is moderation? How much is too much? How often is too much? Is there a type that’s better? Worse? Also, what’s the big deal? Will alcohol really have that much of an effect on your numbers?

It can all be more than a little confusing. It might even be overwhelming. If you enjoy the occasional alcoholic beverage, all of the stress of wondering how it’s going to harm you can sort of defeat the purpose.

So, we’re here to help. We want to make sure you can enjoy an adult beverage without the guilt. We want to make sure we give you the tools you need to make smart, healthy decisions, so you don’t have to worry.

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/arinahabich
Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/arinahabich

Alcohol and Diabetes

First things first: before consuming alcohol, talk to your doctor. Find out if he or she thinks the occasional drink can safely fit into your diabetes management plan. Unfortunately, if you have additional health problems, your doctor might recommend avoiding alcohol altogether.

Next, it’s important to consume alcohol with caution. Whether you have diabetes or not, it’s important to exercise moderation. So, what is moderation? Well, for women, no more than one drink per day should be consumed. And for men, no more than 2 drinks per day. If you find yourself wondering what exactly constitutes a drink, it’s roughly 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1 1/2 ounces of spirituous liquor.

Finally, it’s important to remember that alcohol can interact with your diabetes in a variety of ways. How? Take a look:

  • Alcohol inhibits liver function. Instead of focusing its efforts on regulating your blood sugar, it’s redirected to removing the alcohol from your blood.
  • Alcohol can interfere with the effectiveness of insulin and oral medications. Depending on how much you drink, alcohol can either raise or lower your blood glucose levels. If you’re taking insulin or oral medications to lower blood sugar levels, it can lead to a hypoglycemic episode.
  • Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/anya_stogova
    Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/anya_stogova
  • Alcohol can affect your numbers. As mentioned above, depending upon what and how much you’re drinking, alcohol can cause an unexpected rise or fall in blood glucose numbers. If you have type 1 diabetes, you’re actually more likely to find yourself dangerously low.
  • Alcohol can increase appetite. This, combined with potentially impaired judgment, can cause you to overeat, likely outside of your normal diet plan.
  • Alcohol can increase both triglyceride and blood pressure levels.
  • Alcohol contains a significant amount of calories. If weight control is part of your management plan, alcohol can present an obstacle. In addition to the (likely empty) calories, it’s often high in sugar and carbohydrates.
Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/okorokovanatalya
Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/okorokovanatalya

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What can you do?

If your doctor has given you the go ahead to enjoy alcohol in moderation, there are some things you can do to make consumption safer. Employing just a few of the tips below can improve your chances of making healthy choices, while also reducing the stress of drinking.

  • Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Eating a meal with your drink will slow the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream. This also mitigates the risk of bingeing on unhealthy food while intoxicated.
  • Test. Before you drink, test your blood sugar. Keep an eye on your number as you drink.
  • Choose your beverages wisely. Certain alcoholic beverages contain more calories, sugar, and carbohydrates than others. For instance, choose a light beer over craft, opt for soda water or low-calorie mixers over juices or full-calorie soft drinks.
  • Stay hydrated. Make sure to mix-in water or another low- or no-calorie beverage while consuming alcohol.
  • Make your drink last. Sip your drink and make it last. Avoid shots.
  • Identify your condition. Make sure you’re wearing an ID bracelet that notes your condition, or let someone you’re with know you have diabetes.
  • Exercise moderation. Know your limit, as recommended by your doctor, and stick to it.
  • Drive safely. If you plan to drink, make sure you have a designated driver or other plans to get home. While no one should drive while intoxicated, alcohol can play with your numbers. If you find yourself feeling high or low, it’s best that you’re not behind the wheel when it happens.
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