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Can I still drink alcohol when I have diabetes?

Living with Diabetes Lifestyle
9/9/2021    |    0 min read

When it comes to alcohol it’s all about moderation for all adults, whether they have been diagnosed with diabetes or not. It is recommended to have no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men.

However, one glass of alcohol can be vastly different from another. Therefore it is beneficial to recognize which type and amounts of alcohol are considered the equivalent serving of one drink.

The following are each considered one serving of alcohol:

  • 12 oz beer, cider, and hard seltzer
  • 8 oz malt liquor
  • 5 oz wine
  • 1.5 oz hard liquor or distilled spirits

Controlling your drink portions can be difficult if you are out at a bar or restaurant and unable to serve your own beverage. Beer is typically served in the correct serving of a 12 oz bottle or can and a 1.5 oz serving of spirits is equal to the amount that can fit in a standard shot glass. Be mindful that malt liquor is often served in 12 oz or larger bottles and a pour of wine can appear smaller than it actually is if served in a large glass.

Carbohydrates and alcohol

People often wonder if there are ways to make alcoholic drinks lower in sugar. The amount of carbohydrates in alcohol can be difficult to determine as most alcoholic beverages are not required to have a nutrition facts label on them. To find the carb content of your drinks, it’s best to go online and search for the information for your drink of choice. Below are some quick takeaways to help make choosing low sugar alcoholic drinks easier:

  • Pick “Light” beer - light beers are lower in calories and carbohydrates than their regular counterparts. For example, a 12 oz can of Bud Light has 6.6 grams of carbs while the same serving of Budweiser has 10.6 grams of carbs.  Comparing light beers can be easy as most voluntarily contain calorie and carbohydrate information on their packaging.
  • Stick to seltzers - flavored hard seltzers are rising in popularity. They are around 100 calories with 2-3 grams carbohydrates per 12 oz can, making them a low sugar, portion-controlled choice.
  • Watch out for wines - a 5 oz pour of dry white, red or sparkling wine is generally between 110-130 calories with less than 6 grams of carbs. However, dessert and sweet wines like Port, Sherry, or Moscato will be higher in calories and carbs than dry wines. The sweeter it tastes, the higher the sugar content is!
  • Mix it right - Spirits (e.g. vodka, tequila, etc) are alcoholic drinks that are sugar-free. But when you mix them with sodas or juices it’s a different story. For instance, a cranberry drink made with one shot vodka and 6 oz cranberry cocktail will add up to 21 grams of carbohydrates. If you mixed the vodka with club soda instead, the drink would be 0 grams carbohydrates. To create sugar-free mixed drinks, choose low-carb, sugar-free mixers like diet soda, diet tonic, soda water, Crystal Light, or your favorite sugar-free beverage.

One final note on carbohydrates and drinking -  consider what you will be eating. If you’re like most folks who enjoy alcohol with a good meal or snacks, recognize that drinking will likely lead to eating extra calories and carbs than what you may have eaten without the presence of alcohol.

Safety and drinking

Drinking with diabetes does come with the risk of hypoglycemia. It can be difficult to spot as low blood sugar symptoms are similar to those of being drunk and include confusion, slurred speech, blurry vision, and dizziness. To reduce the risk of hypoglycemia occurring, have a balanced meal before your first alcoholic beverage and check your blood sugars often when you know you will be drinking.

Following these suggestions can help you “cheers” your next drink with confidence. If you are interested in learning more about how to balance alcohol with diabetes, reach out to one of our Care Team. They can help you develop a plan and goals for how to safely drink when you have diabetes.

About the authors

Karina Nwoko is a registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist who specializes in nutrition education, weight-loss counseling, and chronic disease management. She utilizes writing to provide evidence-based wellness content to businesses and brands. Outside of work you can find Karina literally running around Orlando, Florida where she enjoys training for road races and exploring the restaurant scene.

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