Can I drink over Christmas and New Year?
’Tis the season to raise a glass in good cheer. But what if you have diabetes? Can you still drink safely? Let’s look briefly at the effects of alcohol so it will be easier for you to choose a way forward. You don’t have to be deprived to feel well, but you may have to be more cautious with alcohol than someone who does not have diabetes.
Will alcohol affect my blood sugars?
Yes it will.
Beer will push your sugar levels up - a lighter beer is a better option than a heavier real ale, stout or Guinness.
Wine has a little less carbs so will push them up less. Dry wines and champagne are lower in carbs than medium or sweet wines. A lovely option to consider is a white wine spritzer using a dry white wine mixed with carbonated water.
Spirits have even less carbs but we often take them with a sugary mixer so do take that into account. Even tonic waters contain sugar and a lot of the light option contain aspartame which is a substance to be avoided (for further reading, look at Dr Mercola's page on Aspartame). Fever tree naturally light tonic is a better option to consider.
Summary of highest to lowest carbs again
Sweet wine / Prosecco
Dry wine / Champagne
Spirits (these jump right up to the top of the list if you mix them with soft drinks)
Overnight Sugar Crash
This is a particular issue if you take insulin or other strong diabetes medications - NOT Metformin though. Alcohol inhibits your liver's ability to help regulate your blood sugar by releasing glucose when levels drop, and people on insulin and other medications can find their blood sugar dropping after taking a drink. You will need to adjust your medication so that you do not have a blood sugar crash overnight. You diabetes health care team can help you be more specific about what exactly you need to modify but remember - if you are on meds, alcohol spikes your sugars and then later crashes them. It is safer to stick to only a couple of drinks at most.
You can take all the uncertainty out of it by testing your sugars at 2 hours intervals and getting to know what alcohol does to you. It will vary with every person and this will help you look after yourself more effectively. Knowledge is always power.
Taking care of your liver
The poor old liver takes a beating with diabetes and you have an increased risk of developing NAFL because your liver can become insulin resistant too. When you drink your liver is completely focused on getting rid of, metabolising, the alcohol which is why it can’t respond to drops in your blood sugar. Also alcohol itself is rough on the liver and yours will be more delicate because of the diabetes. Just be kind to it.
Weight gain and alcohol
This is a bit of a double whammy - alcohol is pretty calorific in and of itself and we don’t really notice calories that we are drinking. The real kicker with alcohol is the devil may care attitude that kicks in after a drink or two and it is also an appetite stimulant. So if something reduces your inhibitions and stimulates your appetite… well you can see where I am going with this. A glass of wine turns me into a food monster!
Some tips for the party season
On the face of it alcohol and diabetes are not a great combination but it is also important that you don’t let diabetes take over your holidays, so find that middle path. Here are some things that we recommend you try. As always see what you find useful and leave the rest.
- Never ever drink on an empty stomach. Down a good protein shake, or have a substantial nutrient rich snack before you head out the door. This one is pretty solid and I use it all the time. Never find yourself hungry at a party where there is alcohol and only little junky sausage rolls and things. You can down 3 days worth of calories and sugars before you’ve sat down to eat. A tipsy host or hostess may not feed you till really late… you know what we are talking about. Have some nuts in your bag too! Eating beforehand will also slows down any alcohol you drink.
Delay that first drink. This really helps a lot. Have something non alcoholic at the beginning of the evening and “save” your alcohol until you sit down to eat. It will really cut your alcohol intake and reduce the overall amount of time you are tipsy around tempting foods. (Tom Kerridge talks about this in his book The Dopamine Diet. He might start the night feeling regretful that he isn’t drinking but by the time everyone is getting messy around him he is glad he is still sober!).
Know you body. It won’t take you long to get to know how alcohol affects your sugars specifically. Once you know that you and your doctor can get really specific about adjusting your medications and keeping you well.