It’s just about the end of the year, and that means lots of New Year’s celebrations! While we want everyone to celebrate the year in style, we also want to make sure you are safe in those celebrations. Many people think that having diabetes means you cannot drink alcohol, but that isn’t actually true! There are some health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, provided that you know how to responsibly incorporate alcohol into your diet. Below we’ve got the round up on how alcohol affects blood sugar so you can better understand what happens to your body and have a great night out!
How Alcohol Affects Blood Sugar
Alcohol typically lowers your blood sugar, and can have a prolonged affect. It takes about 2 hours for your body to process 1 ounce of alcohol, so even after you’ve stopped drinking your blood sugar may remain low as your body works to remove the alcohol from your system. This can generally last for anywhere between 8-16 hours after you call it a night.
Exercise and alcohol do not mix! Both activities lower your blood sugar, and if mixed together can cause you to drop dangerously low. Keep this in mind as a night out dancing can be considered exercise. If going out dancing try to limit your number of drinks and have a few snacks throughout the night. Also be sure to monitor your blood sugar so you can adjust accordingly.
Know Your Drinks
Just like anyone drinking alcohol, you should be aware of the alcohol content of your drinks. It is recommended for anyone (with or without diabetes) to average up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. You should not drink more than three to four drinks in any single day. Also keep in mind the correct serving size of one drink- 12 oz of beer, 5 oz of wine, and 1.5 oz of distilled spirits. Beer is typically the standard size, but wines and mixed drinks often have a more generous pour.
Alcohol itself has virtually zero carbohydrates, but any beers, mixers, syrups, garnishes and crushed rims can have carbs. These carbs should be counted towards your daily carbohydrate counts. To keep your count lower, consider lite beers and sugar free mixers such as diet sodas, diet tonics or seltzer waters. Alcohol has many ‘hidden’ calories and is easier to over-consume in comparison with food. Remember that alcohol induced weight gain is never healthy, and can complicate everyday diabetes symptoms.
With all these considerations to make in your drink choices, always keep an eye on your drink as its being made, and be aware of the content of any drinks given to you by a friend or anyone else.
Alcohol Induced Hypoglycemia
Hypoglycemia is caused by a severe drop in blood sugar. When you consume alcohol your liver is busy clearing out these toxins, which means its normal job of regulating blood sugar by releasing glucose into the bloodstream is put on hold. Be aware that because your liver is working to process the alcohol, injecting glucagon will not work. If your blood sugar starts to dip, you need to eat food or take glucose tablets to bring it back up. Many symptoms of hypoglycemia are similar to being intoxicated, so it is very important to have a friend who knows your condition as well as to wear a medical alert bracelet so that you will get the care you need in an emergency situation.
Although this may sound quite scary, alcohol induced hypoglycemia is completely avoidable! The best recommendations are to never drink on an empty stomach and to continue to check your blood sugar. The best foods to eat include carbs, proteins and fats as these will help offset your lowered blood sugar. Also consider eating snacks throughout the night if you feel your blood sugar lowering too much. The ADA recommends checking your blood sugar before and after you drink to make sure it is within a normal range of 100 to 140 mg/dL.
Benefits of Alcohol
There are a few known benefits of moderate consumption of alcohol in an adult’s diet
- Can reduce your risk of developing diabetes if you do not yet have the condition
- Has been associated with a 30-50 percent decrease in the risk of heart disease
- Improves good (HDL) cholesterol (although this benefit diminishes if you gain weight due to alcohol)
- Can have a slight improvement on insulin sensitivity, helping your body make more efficient use of the insulin the pancreas currently makes
Calling it a Night
Remember to have a snack and a glass of water before going to bed, as your blood sugar will continue to be low for several hours after you’ve finished drinking. If you’ve drank a lot, consider setting an alarm in the middle of the night to check blood sugar just to be safe. In the morning you should always eat breakfast as your body needs to continue managing blood sugar. If you are hungover or not feeling well drink as many fluids as possible including some sugary (non-diet) drinks. The symptoms of hypoglycemia can be very similar to a hangover, so be sure to check your sugars and treat your symptoms accordingly.
People with diabetes can certainly enjoy adult beverages, but need to be aware of what they are drinking just like anyone else. Always check with your registered dietitian and your doctor to get their recommendations on alcohol consumption specific to your health. It is important to head their advice and please remember to always drink responsibly!