Summertime is here, and icy cold beer, frosty cocktails and chilled wine are very tempting refreshers. But should you drink alcohol if you have diabetes? And if it’s okay, how much and what type is best? Read on to learn how to safely include adult beverages in a healthy lifestyle.
First things first
Alcohol is a drug, and like all drugs it must be metabolized, or processed, by the liver to make it “safe.” It takes about two hours to metabolize one drink. If you drink alcohol faster than your liver can handle, you end up feeling tipsy or getting drunk.
If you take insulin or certain types of diabetes pills called ‘sulfonylureas.’ you need to be especially careful. These medicines increase the risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). So drinking alcohol while taking either insulin or sulfonylureas make it more likely that you’ll have a low blood sugar because your liver will be processing the alcohol instead of keeping your blood sugar in a safe range.
Other than the risk of low blood sugar, you should also go easy with alcohol for other reasons. For example, drinking too much alcohol can:
- Raise blood pressure
- Raise triglycerides (blood fats)
- Worsen diabetic neuropathy
- Increase the risk of cirrhosis
In addition, heavy drinking can interfere with your daily diabetes self-management and your ability to take care of yourself, including eating well, exercising, taking your medicine and checking your blood sugars.
Everything in moderation
The American Diabetes Association recommends drinking alcohol “in moderation.” But what does that mean? For women, moderation means drinking no more than one drink per day; for men, no more than two drinks per day. One drink is considered to be 5 ounces of wine, 1-½ ounces of distilled spirits (gin, rum, vodka) or 12 ounces of beer.
“Moderation” with alcohol serves another purpose: weight control. Remember that alcohol contains calories. A serving of wine contains about 120 calories, a 12-ounce beer has about 145 calories, and 1-½ ounces of hard liquor has about 90 calories. Typical mixers, such as orange juice, soda or tonic water, add even more calories. And fancy cocktails, like Pina Coladas or Mudslides can have hundreds of calories per serving. Limit your intake of alcoholic beverages if your goal is to lose or maintain your weight.
Playing it safe with alcohol
Being smart about alcohol is important for everyone, but especially if you have diabetes. These tips can help you drink alcohol safely:
- Check with your healthcare provider if you have any concerns or questions about how alcohol might affect your diabetes.
- Don’t drink on an empty stomach, especially if you take insulin or sulfonylureas. Always eat food when you drink to lessen the risk of hypoglycemia.
- Check your blood sugar more often when you drink alcohol.
- If you drink alcohol, make sure to check your blood sugar before you go to bed. Your blood sugar should be above 100 mg/dl. If it’s not, eat a carbohydrate snack to help raise your blood sugar.
- Don’t swap food for alcohol in your eating plan. Alcohol doesn’t count as a carb choice.
- Stick with wine, light beer or distilled spirits. If you use mixers, choose club soda, diet tonic water or diet soda. And avoid or limit fruity or sugary drinks.
- Wear or carry an I.D. stating that you have diabetes. Symptoms of hypoglycemia can look like having had too much to drink.