by Grace Rivers, RDN, CDCES
Alcoholic beverages impact anyone, and there isn’t any exception for people with diabetes. Knowing how liquor affects you and ways to include it safely can help you still feel like part of the crowd or sip a cold beer with your buddies without fear.
What happens when you drink alcohol?
One role of your liver is to provide sugar (glucose) for you in between meals. Another function is to detoxify you from substances such as alcohol. During the detoxification process, releasing of sugar ceases. Without food on your stomach, hypoglycemia can occur.
Within about 5 minutes of swallowing alcohol, it reaches your stomach, and about 20% of the alcohol travels to your liver. The remaining part will move on to your small intestine for absorption into the bloodstream, where it then flows throughout your body as it makes its way to your liver.
Alcohol stays in your stomach longer when food is available. Therefore, it takes longer to enter your bloodstream, so it doesn’t impact you as quickly.
Only time and your liver can work to process alcohol. Drinking coffee or exercising does not speed up the process. For most, metabolizing a standard alcohol serving takes about one to two hours; however, this can vary depending on factors such as fat composition, gender, age, and overall health. The more alcohol consumed, the longer the processing time.
Tips to deter disappointment with alcohol
- Be smart and know your blood sugar level before drinking. Alcohol can also impact your sugar up to 12 hours after drinking.
- Avoid alcohol while your blood sugar is out of your safe range.
- Make sure you are hydrated because alcohol is a diuretic.
- Help protect yourself by having food in your stomach. A drop in your sugar level can happen because of an empty stomach, especially if you take insulin or a sulfonylurea. Be sure to have enough carb intake.
What is a serving of an alcoholic beverage?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 recommend that moderate alcohol intake is a maximum of two drinks in a day for men and one drink for women for those who choose to drink. The following is a serving of alcohol:
Beer 12 ounces
Wine 5 ounces
Liquor (spirits) 1.5 ounces
Saving those drinks to splurge on any single day isn’t recommended because your body can’t safely handle all the alcohol at once.
Know the amount you are drinking. If you are at home, you can measure your beverage, but if away, you may not know the size of the container that you will be drinking from. You may be served a glass of wine which may hold 10 ounces or more, and if so, you will be consuming two or more servings of wine.
Consuming alcohol can increase your appetite, so keep an eye on food portions and alcohol servings.
Flavorful adult beverages:
- Lite beer
Carbs from food are a better choice when using alcohol. Lite beer still contains alcohol, roughly 4% in 12 ounces, but is lower in carbs and calories. Higher calorie craft beer may have an average of nearly 6-8% alcohol and 15 grams carbs in 12 ounces.
- Dry red or white wine
Dry wines don’t provide carbs, but sweet ones do. Wine coolers contain fruit juice, so should be avoided because of a quick rise in sugar level and rapid absorption.
To help with hydration and enjoy a refreshing beverage, you may like adding sparkling water to your wine. You will assist with hydration and make your wine last longer.
- Bloody Mary
- Rum with diet cola
Use diet cola, seltzer, or water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages such as drink mixes for Margaritas and fruit juice that you find in drinks such as Pina Coladas.
Liquor doesn’t contain carbs and using a regular soda or juice in a mixed drink provides empty liquid calories which are rapidly absorbed. The key is to have solid food in your stomach to slow the effects of the alcohol.
Drinking alcohol safely with diabetes can be done when you are careful with your choices. Be sure to know your blood sugar level, the serving size of alcohol, and have food in your stomach.