Beer and Being Diabetic

Posted by Carla Gesell-Streeter on Jan 18, 2023 at 4:25 PM

I remember parts of the phone call vividly. “We got your test results. You’re diabetic.” I managed to let the medical assistant from my doctor’s office know that I appreciated her calling and I would discuss it more with the doctor at my appointment. I said good-bye and hung up. Then I sat there for a bit and then I told Tom. “My A1C is 7 and I’m officially diabetic.”

I said “officially diabetic” because I had been pre-diabetic for years. My A1C had been hovering in the 6.3-6.5 range for so long that I thought that was just where it was going to be. If you keep doing the same things, you’re going to get the same results, right? (Waves hands in the air, trying to shoo away reality... which doesn't work either.)

This was Tuesday and my doctor's appointment wasn't until Monday so I did what any former academic would do: I threw myself into research. I started with the Mayo Clinic website for a quick overview of treatment possibilities and to refresh my memory on the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes (I'm Type 2). Then it was on to the American Diabetes Association website for a deep dive.

Eventually, with my doctor's guidance, I decided to both take the medication she prescribed plus count my carbs. I'm luckily enough to have a close friend who is a dietitian who specializes in diabetes patients (Hi, CJ!). She suggested that I aim for 45 carbs per meal. That was different for me. As a long time dieter, I was used to having so many calories per day. But it made sense. You want your glucose levels to be stable without huge peaks or valleys. That means moderating your carb intake throughout the day.

As luck would have it, my diabetes diagnosis came just a few weeks before I was scheduled to speak on a International Women's Day panel at Yellow Spring Brewery. Crap! Was I going to be able to drink any beer? Their Captain Stardust is one of my favorites and I knew it would be hard to resist.

Back into the research I went. This time, it helped that I am a ServSafe Alcohol instructor and taught classes on the effects of alcohol on the body.

First of all, it is important to remember what a "drink" is considered. It can be one and a half ounces (or a jigger) of 80-proof spirits, five ounces of most wines, or 12-ounces of your standard macro beer (about 3-4 ABV). But, even though those three are considered the same alcohol wise, they are very different in carbs.

Spirits = 0 grams of carbs, wine = 3-5 grams, beer = 11 grams

That doesn't seem too bad, but if you're reading this and consider yourself a Hoperative, you are probably not drinking a standard macro beer. Consider the number of carbs in some of your favorite non-macro beers:

Grams of carbs in popular beers

It's important to remember that these numbers are for 12 ounces. Depending on the style and ABV, the glass you may be served that beer in could be larger or smaller than that. A pint glass in the US holds 16 ounces and an imperial pints holds 20.

The American Diabetes Association points out that alcohol (especially when consumed while taking certain medications for diabetes) can increase your risk of hypoglycemia (or low blood sugar).

Blame it on your liver. This organ stabilizes glucose levels by storing carbohydrates and releasing them into the bloodstream between meals and overnight. It’s also the body’s detoxification center, breaking down toxins like alcohol so the kidneys can easily flush them away.
Trouble is, it’s not great at multitasking. Your liver will choose to metabolize the alcohol over maintaining your blood sugar, which can lead to hypoglycemia. The liver often makes this choice when you drink without eating food—so consider snacking while you sip.

By the way, contrary to popular belief, foods high in carbs are not the best at slowing the absorption of alcohol. Instead, choose foods that are high in protein and fats like cheese. And as we like to point out, alternate a glass of water with any alcoholic beverage. Keeping hydrated is always a good thing.

You can enjoy beer (and other types of alcohol) as a diabetic. You just need to count your carbs and decide which carbs are worth counting. For me, I’d much rather have one truly great beer than numerous bottles of a low carb, low flavor one.

Cheers and here’s to better beer (even if you’re diabetic)!