Looking to celebrate Valentine’s Day with an alcoholic libation? Trying to decide on the best type of alcoholic beverage to serve at your game day party? Or simply wondering if you can even drink alcohol if you have diabetes? Before you decide, it’s a good idea to understand how alcohol can impact your diabetes, and, if you choose to drink, how to drink safely.
Risks of drinking alcohol
When you drink alcohol (no matter the type), your liver kicks into gear to process, or metabolize, the alcohol. By doing so, however, the liver is unable to make and release glucose into the bloodstream. That doesn’t sound like a problem if you have diabetes, but if you haven’t eaten for a while and you also take insulin or certain types of diabetes pills, you run the risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Also, alcohol can affect your blood sugar for up to 12 hours later, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Another potential pitfall of drinking alcohol is that if you happen to have hypoglycemia while you are drinking, your symptoms can make it seem that you’ve had too much to drink. The danger of this is that others around you may not realize that your blood sugar is low and that you need assistance.
Always check with your health care provider about drinking alcohol. They may advise you not to drink (or at least limit the amount that you drink) if you have certain health conditions, including:
- High triglyceride (blood fat) levels
- Peripheral neuropathy
- High blood pressure
- Overweight or obesity
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Everything in moderation
The American Diabetes Association and the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans urge moderation when it comes to drinking alcohol. Moderation means:
- Up to one drink per day for women
- Up to two drinks per day for men
A “drink” is:
- 12 ounces of beer
- 5 ounces of wine
- 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits (gin, rum, vodka)
Best alcoholic drinks for diabetics
The best type of alcoholic beverage depends, in part, on what you enjoy drinking. If your tastes run to wine or champagne, consider:
- Red wine, which provides antioxidants that may help lower the risk of heart disease
- White wine
- Dry sparkling wines, such as Champagne, prosecco, or cava
Go easy with sweet wines, which include Port, Riesling, Moscato, Sauterne, and ice wine, as these contain more sugar than drier red and white wines.
If beer is more to your liking, you might consider a light or low-carb beer. Light beers are brewed in a way as to lower the calories and carbs. Most regular beers contain about 15 grams of carb per 12 ounces; a light beer contains about half as many carb grams, and maybe even as few as 2 grams of carb per 12-ounce serving. Some light beers to consider include:
- Michelob Ultra Pure Gold
- Miller Lite
- Coors Light
- Amstel Light
- Beck’s Premier Light
- Yuengling Lager Light
What about no- or low-alcohol beer? It can be an option if you have diabetes and want to skip the alcohol, but you’ll need to keep an eye on the carbs: some brands may only have a few grams of carb, but other can have close to 20 grams per serving.
If a cocktail is more up your alley, steer towards mixed drinks made without fruit juice, regular soda, milk, or ice cream. Here are some options to consider:
- Gin and tonic (made with diet tonic water)
- Rum and diet cola
- Vodka soda
- Bloody Mary
There’s always the option of drinking a distilled spirit on its own, either “neat” or “on the rocks” (which means with ice cubes added).
Unfortunately, most alcoholic beverages don’t list the nutrition information or ingredients on their labels, since they’re not required to do so. That’s because alcohol is under the purview of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). Labels are optional, but not required. The best way to find out the calorie and carb info on your favorite wine, beer, or mixed drink is to do a search on the internet — the websites calorieking.com and nutritionix.com are good places to start.
Besides drinking responsibly and never drinking and driving, keep these other tips in mind:
- Don’t drink on an empty stomach, especially if you take insulin or diabetes pills called sulfonylureas.
- Always keep treatment for low blood sugar with you, particularly if you’re at risk of hypoglycemia.
- Make sure someone that you’re with has your back — meaning, they can help you if are showing signs of hypoglycemia.
- Know your limit and stick with the rule of moderation.
- Pace yourself and alternate an alcoholic drink with a non-alcoholic drink, such as sparking water with lime.
- Check your blood sugars (or your CGM) often if you are drinking, especially before you go to bed. If your blood glucose is below 100 (or the level recommended by your provider), you may need to “treat” with a faster-acting carb and follow up with a small snack to help keep your glucose steady overnight.
Want to learn more about diabetes and alcohol? Read “Drinking and Diabetes: Seven Facts to Know,” “Diabetes, Alcohol, and the Holidays: Tips to Stay Safe,” and “Can People With Diabetes Drink Beer?”