When you live with diabetes, navigating alcohol can be complicated—but it is not impossible!
In 2022, nearly 63% of Americans reported consuming alcohol on a regular basis. It’s so common that it’s likely you’ve wondered if it’s possible to enjoy it safely.
If you do decide to imbibe, there are so many alcoholic beverages to choose from. However, what are the best and worst alcoholic drinks for people with diabetes to indulge in?
This article will list the best and worst choices for health and blood sugar management.
Is alcohol safe to drink if you have diabetes?
Drinking alcohol in moderation is safe if you live with diabetes. However, there are extra precautions that you need to take.
If you choose to drink, always carry emergency glucose on you, wear a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), and don’t drink on an empty stomach.
There are serious health risks associated with drinking alcohol.
If you have diabetes, you need to be extra careful about heart health. Heart disease is the main cause of death in people with diabetes.
Heavy drinking is also linked to high blood pressure, heart failure, and increased risk of stroke. It may also contribute to cardiomyopathy.
Things to keep in mind if you plan to drink
For starters, it’s helpful to choose lower carbohydrate options that will not drastically raise your blood sugar levels.
If you’re drinking mixed drinks, opt for soda water (seltzer) or diet drinks. This is because the base will have less of an impact on your blood sugar levels than tonic water or sugar-sweetened sodas or juices.
Additionally, drinking in moderation is key.
According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate alcohol intake is limited to 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men.
A single drink serving size is listed below:
- 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol)
- 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol)
- 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits (40% alcohol)
The calories in alcohol have little to no nutritional value. Talk with your doctor about how to incorporate alcohol into your diet if you’re trying to lose weight.
It’s important to note that alcohol can be addicting. Talk with your doctor if you are struggling with your relationship with alcohol.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is a great free resource. Contact them at 1800-662-HELP (4357) for confidential support with alcohol addiction.
The best alcoholic drinks for people with diabetes
The following are the best alcoholic drinks for people with diabetes to enjoy.
Beer is one of the most popular alcoholic drinks and it has been brewed for centuries around the world.
There are lower carbohydrate and “lite” options, making this a lower-calorie drink that’s easier on blood sugar levels.
Offerings like Bud Lite, Coors Light, and Miller Lite have about 5 grams of carbohydrates per serving.
Wine, especially red wine, is often touted for its health benefits due to its antioxidant properties (resveratrol).
It is also associated with improving heart health and may reduce the likelihood of diabetic retinopathy.
Plus, wine does not have added sugars. A typical 5-ounce glass has fewer than 4 carbohydrates, making it an excellent low-carb option.
Opt for wines that do not have any added sugars or flavorings. Dry reds, whites, and champagne are good options too.
Hard liquor is tricky because, on its own, it does not contain any carbohydrates.
However, hard liquors like whiskey, gin, rum, and vodka can often be mixed with sugary drinks, making them a poor choice if you have diabetes.
Alternatively, you can also mix distilled alcohol with seltzer or soda water, diet soda, and a squeeze of lemon or lime. This creates a mixed drink without adding any sugar.
Be wary of low blood sugar levels from drinking hard alcohol, especially if you drink this type of alcohol on an empty stomach.
The worst alcoholic drinks for people with diabetes
Certain alcoholic drinks won’t support your health goals. It is best to completely avoid the following beverages, or drink them in limited quantities.
Sugary mixed drinks
Lower-carb mixed drinks like rum and diet coke or vodka and soda water are great options if you’re looking for a diabetes-friendly drink.
However, most mixed drinks have tons of added sugar.
Frozen margaritas, dark and stormy cocktails, pina coladas, and strawberry daiquiris can have over 30 grams of added sugar and carbohydrates—and that’s just for one drink!
Over an evening, multiple sugary mixed drinks can cause high blood sugar levels that last a long time.
Sugary mixed drinks also contain many more calories, making them a poor choice if you’re watching your caloric intake or weight.
Dessert wines such as sherry, port, and vermouth are higher in sugar and carbohydrates than regular wine. They often served as a digestif after a meal.
One sweet serving is almost 15 grams of carbohydrates, which most people with insulin-dependent diabetes would have to dose insulin for.
Cream liqueurs, such as Bailey’s Irish Cream and Kahlua, have a lot of added sugar and fat.
Additionally, these liqueurs are often combined with sugar-sweetened mixers. These types of drinks are really not diabetes-friendly.
Tips for healthier drinking with diabetes
The following are important things to remember if you choose to drink alcohol and have diabetes:
- Choose healthier options like light beer, dry wine, or hard liquor mixed with soda water and citrus
- Avoid sugary-sweetened mixed drinks, fortified wines, and cream liqueurs
- Pace your drinking with water to prevent dehydration
- Limit your drinks to 1 per evening (for women) or 2 per evening (for men)
- Do not drink on an empty stomach
- Eat a meal or snack with fat and protein before starting to drink to better stabilize your blood sugar levels
- Make sure your blood sugar isn’t low when you start drinking
- Always carry emergency glucose on you, in case of low blood sugar
- Always drink with other people who know you have diabetes and who know how to treat a low blood sugar episode
- Always let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to be back.
- Be reachable via your cell phone throughout the evening (ideally with your ringer turned on)
- Wear a medical ID bracelet stating that you have diabetes
- Test your blood sugar before, during, and after you drink, or better yet, wear a continuous glucose monitor (CGM)
- Before going to bed, eat a snack with fat and protein after you finish drinking to help prevent low blood sugar levels overnight
People with diabetes are often confused as to whether or not they’re able to drink alcohol.
The answer is yes—but with some caveats. Some alcoholic drinks are better for people with diabetes than others.
Mainly, it’s best to stick with drinks that are lower in both carbohydrates and added fats.
The best options for people with diabetes are light beers, dry wines, and distilled spirits on their own, or when mixed with diet drinks, soda water, and citrus.
The worst alcoholic drinks for people with diabetes are options that are higher in carbohydrates, fats, and added sugars.
These include sugary mixed drinks, fortified wines, and cream liqueurs. Beverages like these can wreak havoc on blood sugar levels even after a single drink, let alone multiple.
Be aware that hard liquor can make blood sugar levels dip severely low.
When we drink, the liver is busy metabolizing alcohol and cannot release glucose if blood sugar falls precipitously low.
Being on insulin or sulfonylureas also increases the risk of low blood sugar levels while drinking.
Alcohol may be addictive for some people. Connect with your doctor or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration if you have any concerns about your relationship with alcohol.