Alcohol and Diabetes

Alcohol Recommendations for Diabetic's

In the UK, The general advice for diabetic's on insulin or drug treatments is to use Alcohol in moderation. Aim to have no more than 2 units in a day for women and 3 units for men.

Glass of Wine about 1 unit of Alcohol 1 unit of Alcohol typically is -

  • ½ Pint (285ml) of Beer, Lager or Cider
  • 1 Glass of Wine
  • 1 pub measure of Spirits
  • 1 small glass of any fortified wine (Sherry, Martini or Port)

These are based on normal strength beverages - see the calories in 1 unit of alcohol list below.

Beverages with higher strength ABV's (Alcohol by Volume) will have a higher alcohol content and are likely to have more calories too.

Bought a bottle or can that doesn't say? You can calculate it: -

Quantity in Litres x Strength° (ABV) = Number of Units.

Some actual examples:

500ml can (½ litre) beer at 4° ABV = 2 Units
75cl bottle (¾ litre) wine at 12° ABV = 9 Units

1 pint (UK) = 568ml or a little over ½ a litre.
1 pint (US) = 473ml or a little under ½ a litre.

Who says the Yanks do everything bigger and better!

Paradoxically alcohol (red wine in particular) in these amounts (upto 2 or 3 units) is believed to actually have a protective effect on the heart and circulation. Beyond these levels of course many of the more toxic effects of alcohol quickly reverse these effects and may cause many other problems too.

Typical Alcohol and Calorie Content

Alcohol is not considered a food group but it is a source of calories. A typical value is 75 calories for a small glass of wine (1 Alcohol unit).

The table below gives further information, please note that these are typical values only and that there may be considerable variation in alcohol content and calories.

Calories in 1 Unit of Alcohol

  • ½ Pint Beer, Cider or Lager: 80-100 calories* (3% ABV)
  • Small Glass of Wine: 75 calories* (7%-13% ABV)
  • Small Glass of Fortified Wine Sherry, Port, Martini: 60 calories* (16-20% ABV)
  • Spirits 1 Measure: 50 calories* (38% ABV)
* Calories shown in the list above do NOT include mixers!

Low Alcohol Beer

Low Alcohol Beer is often high in sugar and calories. Try to avoid if you can't check the sugar content.

Alcohol and Nerve Damage

For anyone excessive alcohol, excessive in this case meaning more than 6 units a day (on most days) can lead to nerve damage.

As long term diabetic's quite commonly have diabetic nerve damage (or Neuropathy) its another reason to keep to reasonable levels of alcohol. Remember too that you may have had diabetes quite a while before your diagnosis, if you have Type 2 diabetes.

Sweet, Medium or Dry?

Dry is the safest choice! It is very difficult to estimate how much sugar is in what you are drinking if you have anything other than dry.

Be aware too that sugars in liquids are particularly quickly converted to blood sugar (glucose).

There are no regulations for actually what Sweet, Medium or Dry actually mean in the UK. Wine at least has some guidelines but these are voluntary.

Type of WineTypical Sugar
DryLess than 1%
MediumBetween 1 and 5%
SweetOver 5%

Sweet wines go upto about 15% sugar and sweet vermouth (a fortified wine - I think) is about 18%.

There are two forms of sugar in beverages -

  1. Residual Sugar is the sugar content remaining after fermentation and
  2. Added Sugar is the sugar added after fermentation.

Drinks with no added sugar can still be sweet.

Alcohol and the Liver

Alcohol is quickly absorbed by the body. One of its more notable effects (especially if you have diabetes) is that it blocks the release of sugar (glucose) into the blood while the liver is removing Alcohol.

The only source of blood glucose until the Alcohol has been eliminated from the body is from food being digested in the gut. Blood sugar lows or Hypoglycemia are far more likely when drinking on a empty stomach.

To avoid risks of Hypoglycemia do not drink on an empty stomach and test blood sugar levels especially before going to bed.

You won't be the first (myself included) to use this an excuse to eat to much so take care, find out how alcohol effects you and test frequently.

Alcohol puts particular stress on the liver if you have any form of damage to the liver, avoid alcohol if this is the case.

Lager - normal strength = 2 units, strong = 3-4 units per pint A healthy liver can remove up to 2 units of Alcohol per hour, the equivalent of 1 pint of standard strength beer. Smaller people (with less body weight) will usually take longer to remove Alcohol.

Alcohol may affect the way some drugs work so check the information supplied with the drugs. Finally it may also raise blood pressure for one or two days.

External Link