It’s summertime, and there’s nothing better than sitting on a patio with friends while enjoying an ice-cold beer. But is beer okay to drink if you have diabetes? Does it have any effect on blood sugar levels? Read on to learn more.
Blood Sugar, Diabetes, and Beer
People with diabetes can have trouble with alcohol mainly because of how alcohol affects their liver. Beer can interfere with the liver’s role in managing a person’s blood sugar levels.
Your liver stores extra glucose (sugar) from the food you eat. Your liver converts stored glycogen into glucose every day in order to regulate your blood sugar level. Every day and night, your liver releases this stored glucose into your bloodstream to fuel your brain and body. The same glucose reserves also cause blood sugar to spike during the “dawn phenomenon.”
Meanwhile, your liver sees alcohol as a poison that it has to focus on processing to get it out of your body quickly. The more you drink, the longer this process will take.
Alcohol also slows digestion of food. As a result, the insulin you took for that meal is still working its way through your bloodstream, while the food is not necessarily breaking down into glucose.
Those taking insulin or different types of diabetes pills, such as sulfonylureas, can increase the risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and should avoid drinking beer on an empty stomach. When you drink beer (or any alcoholic beverage) check your blood sugar often, since alcohol can lead to low blood sugar for as long as 24 hours after you’ve stopped drinking.
Diabetes-Friendly Tips for Drinking
Being diabetic does not mean you must give up beer to maintain good blood sugar levels. Here are some tips on how to enjoy a cold one and keep your blood sugar in the safe zone (80-180 mg/dL).
- Be mindful of the ABV. Most beers have a 2-12% ABV. Beers with lower ABV have around 6 grams of carbs, while higher ABV beers have as much as 20-30 grams per 12 oz bottle. Try sticking with 7% ABV or less to keep your carb intake in check.
- Watch the serving size. The American Diabetes Association recommends no more than one drink per day for women, and up to two drinks for men. For beer, one drink is 12 oz. If you get something on draft, request a smaller size.
- Have a meal. Drinking beer on an empty stomach or in excess can cause blood sugar to spike and then fall rapidly, potentially causing hypoglycemia. The alcohol in beer is absorbed more slowly when you eat a balanced meal that includes protein, fiber, and healthy fats.
- Check your blood sugar frequently. It is important to stay within the 80-180 mg/dL blood sugar range. Make sure your blood sugar is within a normal range before, during, and after drinking. Your blood sugar should be between 100 and 140 mg/dL before going to bed. Have a snack with carbs and protein if your reading is below this threshold.
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