Is It Safe To Sip?
Alcohol and Diabetes
As the warm weather and summer months approach, thoughts may be turning to outdoor events and festivities, such as barbeques, holiday parties, and weddings. Many times these occasions include opportunities for socialization and often involve alcoholic beverages. The decision to drink is very personal and many factors need to be considered. Some basic questions to ask yourself before taking a drink include:
- Is my diabetes under good control?
- Do I know how alcohol can affect me and my diabetes?
- Do I have health problems that alcohol may make worse such as nerve damage (neuropathy), high triglycerides, or high blood pressure?
- Do my medications interact with alcohol?
If you answered yes to the first two questions and no to the last two, an occasional drink is probably okay. This means no more than one alcoholic beverage per day for women and no more than two per day for men. One alcoholic drink is defined as a 12 ounce beer, 5 ounce glass of wine, or 1 ½ ounces of liquor. If you have diabetes it is important to talk to your health care provider about whether or not it is safe for you to consume alcohol. If your doctor says it is okay, there are a few other things to consider before taking a drink.
If you have diabetes and take insulin or oral diabetes pills, your risk for low blood sugar is increased when you drink alcohol. One of the functions of the liver is to break down alcohol. The liver also releases glucose into the blood when glucose levels start to drop. When the liver is breaking down alcohol, it can’t release glucose into the blood and your blood sugar my get too low. Insulin and oral medications also lower blood glucose. The combination of the two can cause you to wind up with blood sugar that is especially low. To protect yourself from low blood sugar, plan to have your drink with a snack or meal. Some good snack ideas are pretzels, popcorn, crackers, fat-free or baked chips, raw vegetables and a low-fat yogurt dip.
If you are counting carbohydrates, focus on the fruit juice, mixer or soda that is added to the drink. Better yet, choose calorie-free drink mixers such as diet soda, club soda, diet tonic water, or water. Alcohol should be counted as fat. Both alcohol and fat have a similar effect on the liver, so one alcoholic beverage should be counted as two fat exchanges or 10 grams of fat. Also remember to account for the calories in alcohol – especially if you want to lose weight.
Another factor to consider with alcohol is that it may lead to snacking and eating unhealthy foods which can derail any weight loss efforts you may be making. Try to stick to the recommended portions of alcohol and have your drink with a meal or snack that fits into your meal plan for the day.
It is important to note that some symptoms of too much alcohol, such as sleepiness, dizziness, and slurring, can also be signs of low blood sugar. Therefore, if your glucose drops, it may appear as if you’ve had too much to drink. The best way to avoid this confusion is to always wear some form of medical identification that states you have diabetes.
Some helpful guidelines to follow if you choose to include alcohol are:
- Drink only if blood glucose is under control.
- Do not drink on an empty stomach
- Check your blood glucose before you drink
- Sip your drink slowly to make it last
- Alternate an alcoholic drink with a no calorie, non-alcoholic drink or water.
- Try wine spritzers to decrease the amount of wine in the drink.
- Do not drive or plan to drive for several hours after you drink alcohol.
- Check your blood glucose before you go to bed; it should be between 100 and 140 mg/dL.
- If you drink alcohol several times a week or more, make sure your doctor knows this before he/she prescribes a diabetes pill.