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Alcohol and Health

The Best (and Worst) Alcoholic Drinks for People Living With Diabetes

July 19, 2023
8 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
July 19, 2023
8 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
July 19, 2023
8 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
July 19, 2023
8 min read
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Reframe Content Team
July 19, 2023
8 min read

You’ve just arrived at a lively cocktail hour and quickly lose yourself in the uplifting conversations and lively music. Everyone has a drink in their hands, and your eyes dart to the shimmering glasses and bottles of alcohol at the bar. But a discomforting worry sets in: what about your diabetes?

Consuming alcohol while trying to manage diabetes can often feel like treading through uncertain territory — which drinks contain the most sugar? How will certain drinks impact your blood sugar levels? Should you even drink at all? Armed with the right knowledge and a toolbox of healthy choices, we can partake in the social fun of a toast without jeopardizing our health.

Alcohol and Blood Sugar Levels

We first need to understand the complex relationship between alcohol and our blood sugar levels. When we consume alcohol, our liver momentarily abandons its role in blood sugar regulation to focus its resources on metabolizing the alcohol. This shift can trigger a potentially dangerous condition known as hypoglycemia, characterized by dangerously low blood sugar levels. Alcohol intoxication can closely mimic low blood sugar symptoms, including dizziness, confusion, and a sense of imbalance, thereby compounding the risks.

The Dangers of Alcohol Misuse in Diabetes

Alcohol consumption becomes increasingly complex when living with diabetes. Drinking to excess, especially when consuming sugar-laden beverages such as margaritas and dessert wines, can cause our blood sugar levels to soar to alarming heights and then plummet to unsafe lows. Drinking too much alcohol can also lead to excess weight gain and induce a steady climb in blood glucose levels over prolonged periods, further worsening symptoms and potentially leading to long-term complications such as vision issues, kidney disease, and nerve damage.

The Worst Alcoholic Choices for People With Diabetes

When living with diabetes, avoiding certain alcoholic beverages can significantly help stabilize blood sugar levels. Here are some drinks to steer clear of:

  • Most cocktails, such as piña coladas and strawberry daiquiris
  • Dessert wines, such as sherry, port, and vermouth
  • Cream liqueurs, such as Bailey’s Irish Cream and Kahlua

The Best Alcoholic Choices for People With Diabetes

While certain drinks pose a considerable challenge, others have a much gentler impact on our blood sugar levels:

  • Dry wines. Dry red or white wines have less sugar than their sweeter counterparts. Try Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Light beer. Light beers have fewer carbohydrates and less alcohol than regular beers, making them a better choice.
  • Spirits. Spirits like vodka, rum, gin, or whiskey can be a good choice, as they contain no carbs. However, we need to be cautious with what mixers we use. Sodas, juices, and sweet liqueurs can add a significant amount of sugar, so opt for soda water or a sugar-free mixer.
  • Sugar-free mixers. For mixed drinks, opting for sugar-free mixers (soda water, diet tonic, or diet soda) can be useful. Avoid the much higher-in-sugar regular soda, tonic water, or juice mixers.
  • Low-sugar cocktails. If you enjoy cocktails, look for low-sugar recipes. For example, a Mojito without the added sugar or a Bloody Mary could be options.

Despite these options, it is critical to remember the golden rule of moderation in consumption and the necessity of frequent blood sugar monitoring to keep potential dangers at bay. Always consult with your physician prior to consuming alcohol if you have diabetes.

Helpful Tips for Navigating the Alcohol-Diabetes Landscape

Navigating the convoluted maze of drinking alcohol while managing diabetes can be made simpler with a handful of easy tips:

  • One protection against hypoglycemia is making sure we always eat something when we drink.
  • Monitoring blood sugar levels, particularly before bed, is a crucial guard against the onset of overnight hypoglycemia.
  • Hydration is our best ally when consuming alcohol, so sip on plenty of water.
  • Informing our companions about the telltale signs of hypoglycemia equips them with the knowledge they need should an emergency arise.

Alcohol and Diabetes: The Takeaways

A diabetes diagnosis doesn't mean giving up all social events or declining every cheerful toast. Rather, it calls upon us to exercise more conscious decision-making about the nature, quantity, and timing of our alcohol consumption. Managing diabetes while enjoying the social aspect of drinking can require a careful balancing act. But with the correct knowledge at our fingertips and a toolkit of practical strategies, we can confidently participate in any social occasion.

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