By Megrette Fletcher M.Ed, RD, CDE
Co-Author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes
The liver has many jobs including preventing low blood glucose (hypoglycemia) by releasing glucose into the bloodstream. When a person drinks alcohol, it is processed in the liver and stops all other functions - including the release of glucose. For someone with diabetes, this interruption of glucose release from the liver can actually improve blood sugar readings! However, it is important to keep in mind that medications that can cause hypoglycemia are therefore more likely to do so when you drink.
You may be also surprised to learn that fully fermented alcohol products (hard liquor, wine) do not have carbohydrate, so a glass of wine at dinner does not add carbohydrate to your meal. Some drinks do contain carbohydrate such as beer, wine coolers and mixed drinks (gin and tonic, rum and Coke, or margaritas). The carbohydrates in these beverages need to be included as part of your total intake.
Light to moderate alcohol intake (one to two drinks per day) is associated with decreased risk of cardiovascular disease according to the ADA Nutrition Recommendations and Interventions for Diabetes (2008). It is nice to know that moderate alcohol intake can be part of a meal plan for many people. Here are some things to consider when including alcohol in your diet.
- The potential benefits do not outweigh the risks in people with a history of alcohol abuse or dependence, liver disease, pancreatitis, advanced neuropathy, or severe hypertriglyceridemia.
- Alcohol can decrease awareness, promoting mindless overeating.
- If you drink, use moderation. Limit your intake to one drink or less for women or two drinks or less for men per day.
- Consuming alcohol with food will be helpful for preventing hypoglycemia (low blood glucose reactions).
- If you are at risk for hypoglycemia and you drink alcohol, be sure to check your blood glucose level before going to bed. (For more information, see the American Diabetes Association)
- Count the carbohydrate-containing drinks as part of your total carbohydrate intake. For example, if you drink two beers containing 13 grams of carbohydrate each, you would count this as two carbohydrate choices (a carbohydrate choice has approximately 15 grams of carbohydrate).
- Check your blood sugar two hours after consuming alcohol to familiarize yourself with how it affects your blood sugar.
- Many diabetes medications have specific alcohol recommendations. For example, glucophage (Metformin), which is processed in the liver, is not recommended if you typically consume more than two drinks a day.
If you have any questions about how alcohol might affect your diabetes management, talk with your health care provider before you drink.