Beyond all the health and safety concerns about alcohol, if you have diabetes and are on diabetes medications that lower blood glucose, you need to practice caution. The action of insulin and some diabetes pills, sulfonylureas and meglitinides (Prandin), is to lower blood glucose by making more insulin. So, you should not drink when your blood glucose is low or when your stomach is empty.
Alcohol can cause hypoglycemia shortly after drinking and for 24 hours after drinking. So, if you want to drink alcohol, check your blood glucose before you drink and eat either before or while you drink. You should also check your blood glucose before you go to bed to make sure it is at a safe level – between 100 and 140 mg/dL. If your blood glucose is low, eat something to raise it.
The symptoms of too much alcohol and hypoglycemia can be similar – sleepiness, dizziness, and disorientation. You do not want anyone to confuse hypoglycemia for drunkenness, because they might not give you the proper assistance and treatment. The best way to get the help you need if you are hypoglycemic is to always wear an I.D. that states "I have diabetes."
Another problem with alcohol can be that it may lessen your resolve to stay on track with healthy eating. Contemplate this situation. You sit at a restaurant and sip a glass of wine while you peruse the menu. As you slowly relax your tastebuds might be more easily tempted to overindulge.
A Few Guidelines
- If you choose to drink alcohol, limit the amount and have it with food. Talk with your health care team about whether alcohol is safe for you.
- Women should drink 1 or fewer alcoholic beverages a day (1 alcoholic drink equals a 12 oz beer, 5 oz glass of wine, or 1 ½ oz distilled spirits (vodka, whiskey, gin, etc.).
- Men should drink 2 or fewer alcoholic drinks a day.
- If you drink alcohol at least several times a week, make sure your doctor knows this before he/she prescribes a diabetes pill.
More Tips to Sip By
- Drink only when and if blood glucose is under control. Do not omit food from your regular meal plan.
- Test blood glucose to help you decide if you should drink.
- Wear an I.D. that notes you have diabetes.
- Sip a drink slowly to make it last.
- Have a no calorie beverage by your side to quench your thirst.
- Try wine spritzers to decrease the amount of wine in the drink.
- Use calorie-free drink mixers: diet soda, club soda, diet tonic water, or water.
- Drink alcohol with a snack or meal. Some good snack ideas are pretzels, popcorn, crackers, fat-free or baked chips, raw vegetables and a low-fat yogurt dip.
- Find a registered dietitian to help you fit alcohol into your food plan.
- Do not drive or plan to drive for several hours after you drink alcohol.
Adapted from the book Diabetes Meal Planning Made Easy, 4th Edition, written by Hope S. Warshaw, MMSc, RD, CDE, a nationally recognized expert on healthy eating and diabetes.
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