People with blood sugar know they must carefully watch their sugar intake as part of their blood sugar diet and limit their alcohol consumption. But following a blood sugar diet does not mean you need to completely eliminate sugar from your daily meals and snacks. You just need to be smart about what you eat and keep close tabs on the sugars in foods.
The same goes for alcohol — if you pay close attention to your blood sugar levels, you should be able to drink a little when you attend a social gathering or are out casually with friends. Here’s how to do it safely.
A major part of blood sugar management involves keeping your blood sugar levels stable. No matter what type of blood sugar you have, this is an ongoing challenge:
- Type 1. People with type 1 diabetes cannot produce insulin, the hormone the body uses to regulate blood glucose levels. The amount of sugar or alcohol consumed has a direct effect on the amount of insulin and other diabetes medication you must take.
- Type 2. With type 2 diabetes, you’ve developed a resistance to insulin, but can still produce the hormone. Controlling blood sugar levels can help you avoid having to take insulin or diabetes medications.
- Gestational. Diabetes during pregnancy means you have high blood glucose levels, which can do damage to both you and your unborn child.
Sugar is a form of carbohydrate that the body quickly converts to glucose, meaning that, when eaten, it has the ability to cause blood glucose levels to quickly rise and create a condition known as hyperglycemia. This is why doctors and blood sugar educators warn people to track and limit the amount of sugar they consume.
Alcohol has the opposite effect. The body normally stores excess glucose in the liver and muscles in the form of glycogen and converts the glycogen back to glucose when your blood sugar levels fall too low. But alcohol interferes with the body’s ability to make that conversion, and researchers have found that the reaction is even more intensified in people who are taking blood sugar medications. If you aren’t careful, your blood glucose level could drop quickly, a condition called hypoglycemia.
These facts don’t take alcohol or sugar completely off the table when it comes to a diabetes diet, experts say. It just means that you need to think about how consuming them will fit into your overall blood sugar management plan.
For example, though sugar can rapidly increase your blood glucose levels, researchers now believe the total amount of all carbohydrates you eat affects your overall blood glucose level more than what type of carb you ingest. If you want to, you should be able to substitute small amounts of sugar for other types of carbohydrates in your diet and still be able to stay on track. Just keep in mind that most sweets contain a lot of carbohydrates in a very small serving and will not keep you as full as the starchy carbohydrates contained in whole grains and certain vegetables.
When it comes to drinking alcoholic beverages, as long as you’re not pregnant, you should be able to enjoy small amounts socially, but you should always eat just before or while you are drinking — never drink on an empty stomach. Women should limit themselves to just one drink per day, and men should limit themselves to two.
When you do indulge, sip your drink slowly, so that you enjoy it fully and make it last. Hypoglycemia can occur shortly after drinking, and the risk persists for up to 12 hours. If you are drinking alcohol in the evening, be sure to check your blood sugar before you go to bed and, if it is less than 100 to 140 mg/dl, have a bedtime snack.
The hypoglycemia symptoms of drowsiness and confusion can mimic the signs of drunkenness. You should always wear a medical alert bracelet if you will be drinking at a social event, so that if you experience these symptoms, health care workers will not dismiss them as being due to drinking.
Women with gestational diabetes should avoid alcohol altogether, though for reasons unrelated to their diabetes. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause physical and mental birth defects. Drinking while pregnant also increases a woman’s risk of miscarriage and premature birth.
If you’re not pregnant and want to make sure having a drink is okay, ask your doctor about any possible interactions with your diabetes medication. You might also consult a registered dietitian to see how occasional drinking, as well as eating sweets, could best fit in with your diabetes diet.
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The statement and product have not been evaluated by the FDA to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.