Can Diabetics Drink Alcohol?

A glass of beerAs a general rule, diabetics are able to drink alcohol in light to moderate amounts without any negative health effects.

Alcoholic drinks are typically very low in carbohydrates – a can of beer contains around 10 grams of carbohydrate while wine (with the exception of port), and spirits contain virtually none. Compare this to some soft drinks which contain up to 35 grams of carbohydrates per serving. Furthermore, alcohol actually lowers blood-sugar levels for up to 8-12 hours after alcohol is consumed. This is because alcohol promotes glucose uptake into the liver in the form of glycogen (a form of short term energy storage).

Diabetics need to be aware that alcohol can cause hypoglycaemia (very low blood sugar levels), especially when combined with diabetes medications that are designed to lower blood sugar levels. It is usually a good idea for diabetics to drink alcohol with food in order to moderate blood sugar levels.

Good alcoholic drinks for diabetics include low-carb beers, red wine (some studies have linked red wine to improved glucose control), and spirits with sugar-free mixers. As a general rule, low-alcohol beers also tend to be low in carbs although there are some exceptions to this rule. Good low-carb beers include Amstel Light, Miller Lite, Michelob ULTRA, and Budweiser Select.

Diabetics should limit their consumption of the following alcoholic beverages due to high carbohydrate levels: port, dessert wines, most stout beers, cider, and liquers such as Sambuca, Amaretto, Crème de Menthe, and Cointreau. Pre-mixed “ready to drink” alcoholic beverages should also be avoided as most have sugar levels comparable to soft drinks.

A list of some common alcohols along with their carbohydrate and calorie content can be found here.

Excessive alcohol consumption over long periods of time can reduce the bodies ability to metabolize glucose however some studies have found that light to moderate amounts of aocohol may actually increase insulin sensitivity and prevent diabetes.

One such study looked at the combined results of 15 clinical trials involving 350,000 men. The researchers found that those who consumed moderate amounts of alcohol (between one-half and four standard drinks daily) were 30% less likely to develop type-2 diabetes than heavy drinkers or those who did not drink at all.

A separate Italian study, where insulin sensitivity was measured in both diabetics and non-diabetics through a glucose tolerance test, found that insulin sensitivity was improved in both the diabetic and non-diabetic groups following alcohol consumption. The greatest improvement occurred when three standard drinks of alcohol was consumed prior to the test.