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Diabetes and Alcohol

If you have either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, you’re probably aware of how different foods influence your blood glucose. But what about alcohol? How does it influence glucose readings, and can people with diabetes really consume alcohol safely?

If I have diabetes, is alcohol off-limits?

"People with diabetes can include alcohol in their diet in a responsible way," states Elizabeth Staum, M.S., R.D., of the Joslin Diabetes Center. Joslin recommends that women with type 1 or type 2 diabetes consume at most one drink per day, and men a maximum of two drinks per day.

An important note: consumption of alcoholic beverages must be done with food. Why? "Alcohol actually puts patients at higher risk for low blood glucose, so it is safest to consume alcohol either with a meal that includes carbs, like starches for example, or with a carb-containing snack like crackers," Staum says.

If I have type 2 diabetes, are there any special concerns about alcohol consumption I should be aware of?

People with type 2 diabetes are often concerned with issues surrounding weight management, because it directly pertains to controlling their diabetes. As a result, minimizing consumption of alcoholic beverages can go a long way toward cutting calories and thus helping to achieve weight loss goals.

How does alcohol interact with the insulin I take to control diabetes?

If you have type 1 diabetes and have to take insulin, or if you have type 2 diabetes and have been prescribed an insulin regimen to better control the disease, you should be especially aware of alcohol’s tendency to lower blood glucose.

"Patients who are counting carbohydrates may be better off not counting the carbohydrate in alcoholic beverages since the alcohol will lower their blood glucose. However, you should count the carbohydrate in very high carbohydrate alcoholic drinks like those with mixers, fruit juice, or regular soda," advises Staum. And of course, those people on insulin should be especially careful about having alcoholic drinks only with a meal or snack that contains carbohydrates to reduce their risk of low blood glucose.

Should I be concerned about drinking if I have diabetes and other health problems?

Yes. If you’re overweight, consuming more than the recommended amount of alcoholic beverages per day can add excess calories that will be stored as fat. If you have high blood triglycerides (fats), you should also think twice about consuming alcohol because it may exacerbate the problem. As always, ask your healthcare provider about how alcohol will impact you specifically.

For more information about meal planning, diet, and exercise, contact Joslin Diabetes Center's Nutrition Program at 617-732-2440. Or learn more about the Nutrition Program by clicking here.

Page last updated: October 22, 2019