Diabetes? Think Before You Drink

Written by Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, LDN

The holidays are here and that means parties, festivities and lots of toasting all around. It can be hard to resist seasonal favorites like egg nog, candy cane martinis and hot buttered rum. But before you raise that glass, think before you drink. 

When you have diabetes, drinking alcohol can make managing your blood sugar even more challenging. For one, consider that alcohol is a source of empty calories with little to no nutritional value. Over-indulging can lead to excessive calorie consumption resulting in weight gain. In addition, alcohol can stimulate appetite. If you have an alcoholic beverage before the start of a high-calorie holiday meal, the alcohol can trigger you to eat more than you normally would, which can elevate both body weight and blood glucose levels.

Alcohol can also impact blood glucose management. In moderate amounts, alcohol can cause blood glucose levels to rise. However, in large quantities, blood glucose can actually decline, increasing the risk of hypoglycemia. Since symptoms of hypoglycemia can often mirror symptoms of intoxication such as slurred speech, it is vital that you moderate your intake and keep careful track of your blood glucose levels.

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Alcohol in moderation can be fine to include as part of a well-balanced meal plan as long as it is not contraindicated by a medication you are currently taking. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend no more than one glass a day for woman and no more than two glasses a day for men. A glass is defined as:

Examples of one drink include:

Alcoholic beverages should be combined with food whenever possible to avoid hypoglycemia. In addition, you should carefully monitor your blood glucose levels when enjoying an alcoholic beverage to understand how your body responds to alcohol.

You should also watch what you are adding or mixing into your spirit of choice. Adding sugar sweetened beverages such as soda or carbohydrate rich mixers such as fruit juice can increase the overall carbohydrate content of your beverage and cause a rise in blood glucose levels. Not to mention, these added sugars provide an additional source of empty calories that my trigger weight gain. Instead, try mixing beverages with options such as naturally flavored seltzer for a sugar free beverage option. The National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has a helpful calculator that can help you to identify how many calories are in your drink of choice.

When choosing to have an alcoholic beverage, timing is also important. Drinking before a meal can stimulate appetite, which may impact your food choices and portions at the next meal. Although you should be mindful about drinking around food, you also don’t want to drink without having anything to eat either. Drinking on an empty stomach may lead to an increased risk of hypoglycemia. For the best blood glucose management when drinking alcohol, plan to have your beverage in the middle or at the end of a meal. This will help to ensure that you have consumed enough carbohydrates and energy to help balance blood glucose. In addition, drinking towards the end of a meal allows less opportunity for the alcohol to stimulate appetite and increase your overall portions.

 

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