Toasting the Holidays: Can Alcohol and Diabetes mix?

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y Amanda Kirpitch, MA, RD, CDE, LDN. This story was originally posted on December 14, 2011. 

The holiday season is in full swing! And with all the delicious food choices comes plenty of tempting alcoholic treats, as well.

While we certainly don’t need alcohol to socialize, many enjoy having it as part of a social occasion. So does being diagnosed with diabetes require you to bow out of joining in the holiday cheer?

For most people with diabetes, alcohol can be consumed in moderation. That typically translates to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men—the same recommendations given for the general public.

So, if the recommendations are the same, where are the problems? Well, there are a few…

1.) Alcohol has the potential to lower blood glucose.

Although it’s generally known that the pancreas makes insulin, there’s another organ whose role in diabetes is less familiar. The liver is responsible for storing and releasing glucose as needed—in times of low blood sugar, for example. But when the liver is busy processing alcohol, it can’t spare the resources to release glucose from storage as it normally would.

Many patients with diabetes are on oral medications or take insulin. These medications provide insulin regardless of the liver’s ability to dispense glucose. This leads to too much insulin acting on too little glucose—better known as hypoglycemia.

In addition, alcohol doesn’t require insulin to be absorbed, and it increases your cells ability to take up glucose (which is the same effect exercise has on your body, without the other positive benefits).

The drop in blood glucose doesn’t stop when you do, though. The risk for hypoglycemia continues for many hours after the last drink. Eating food higher in carbohydrates can help get your glucose levels up faster.

But that brings us to the other problem with alcohol intake…


2.) Empty Calories!

Liquid calories count just as much as calories from food! And while there are reportedly some health benefits from, say, red wine, those calories are largely lacking in nutrition.

Each drink serving (12 oz light beer, 1.5 oz liquor, or 5 oz wine) is about 100 calories. One hundred calories on its own doesn’t seem a lot, but one to two drinks a few times a week can add up.

Plus many find that under the influence of a tasty beverage they may be prone to eat more food. So those 100 calorie treats can turn into several hundred calories fairly rapidly.

Healthy Alcohol Tips:

  • Keep it to one to two servings (be mindful of bartenders or friends with heavy pours)
  • Make it calorie-conscious (wine, light beer, soda water, and splashes of juice make good mixers)
  • Check blood glucose frequently
  • Eat (also in moderation)!! Don’t drink on an empty stomach—probably not a bad idea for everybody!

For more information on diabetes and alcohol, click here

5 Responses to Toasting the Holidays: Can Alcohol and Diabetes mix?

  1. masilamani jayapal says:

    I am in india. I am aged 67. I am diabetil under control. Frequently my blood sugar is monitered.

  2. chellas says:

    as soon as i consume alcohol my body gets too hot and my face becomes reddish and icould able to do anything and my blood glucose level come to 360

  3. Brenda says:

    Can you have a non alcohol beer. they have less than 0.5% per volume.

  4. nora (one of the dietitians) says:

    Dear Brenda,
    Non-alcoholic beer would be treated as any other carbohydrate containing beverage.

  5. Pingback: Staying Consistent on New Year’s Eve | Joslin Diabetes Center Blog

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