Beer and Diabetes: Do they Mix?


Beer and Diabetes - Stella

Summer is almost here and recently I’ve been to some gatherings where food was being grilled and beer was being served.  I love beer.  I wanted to have a beer. Or two. Or three. When I was first diagnosed with diabetes, although I gave up carbs easily, I didn’t give up beer.  (What can I do?  I’m half Irish).

During the winter I don’t actively miss beer, but this time of year – the barbeques, picnics, weekends on the beach – they all scream ice cold beer. And my brains screams back beer and diabetes don’t mix.

A few months ago, after completing a race, I went out for a drink with a few of the guys I ran with. Everyone ordered a beer, and I, after many months of not having any because I know that beer and diabetes do not mix well, decided to go with the flow. I ordered a pint of Stella. I figured my body would have an easier time dealing with it after the race, and I also decided ahead of time that I would only have one.

I enjoyed my cold beer. I really enjoyed it. And although I only had one, it felt like enough. I felt rewarded for the good race I had run. Some occasions demand a beer, despite diabetes, and this was one of them.

The truth is that there are many occasions that call for a beer. Call me a quintessential (diabetic) male, if you must, but there’s nothing like a cold beer on a hot day and watching a game, baseball, football, basketball or soccer. There also some meals I always associate with beer, like pizza, steak, burgers…  

But since being diagnosed with diabetes I’ve found drinking beer to be a challenge, one I don’t always feel like I win. On the day of the race I had my beer, bolused for it, and enjoyed having it, but when I started walking home (the bar was less than a mile from home) I got that feeling I get when my blood sugar goes into the 250’s.

I was walking with a friend and after a few steps I told him, “I knew I should have had whisky”. Then I started telling him how beer and diabetes don’t mix well and how I had basically given beer up after years of trying to cover it with insulin, and never succeeding

Beer is so tricky because of its high carbohydrate content and relatively low alcohol content (4%-8%). Although alcohol is a carb it actually reduces blood sugar levels with out needing insulin (kind of like running). When I drink wine (dry red) it has very little effect on my blood sugar. Anything stronger, whisky, vodka, gin… comes with a tendency for hypoglycemia – so food is always a good idea. But beer is entirely different. Like pizza and bagels it seems to take a very gifted diabetic to bolus correctly for beer, and the more you drink the harder it gets and not only because of the fog in your head. 

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11 years ago

I love this post because I too love beer!  And have the same problems, so there has been a bit of experimenting.  The lighter beers are a bit easier to deal with, but even those have spiked my blood sugar.  We have a really good brewery in town so I treat myself to one pint and take 1 unit wiith it, usually do fine.  But again, it all depends on my activity level that day, what I’ve eaten or am going to eat, etc.  I believe there are so many things that I’ve restricted from my diet that a beer… Read more »

Steve Richert
11 years ago

I never liked beer so it’s been easy for me to cut it out. I drink wine a little bit on occasion if anything. All of the stories I have heard of people having crazy, severe hypos in the middle of the night (one of my worst nightmares!) involved consumption of alcohol in large quantities so it kind of tainted the experience for me. 

Nathan Shackelford
11 years ago

My hobby for the past 10 years has been home brewing. For most of that time I told myself that it was something I could sort out and include in my diet. But, I’ll tell you… when I get really honest and detach myself from the hobby, I’ll say that it’s not a freebie. The carbs vary a lot between beers and it’s hard to predict what you will get in the BG realm. Dr. Bernstein says they are okay (surprise!) but I think he’s talking about lite beers that are low in carb. But, most of the brews that… Read more »

Jane Kokernak
11 years ago

Alcohol is challenging as a PWD who takes insulin.  And, actually, it can both raise and lower BG, as I learned in a diabetes education program at the Joslin. It has carbs, which raises BG, but alcohol’s effect on the liver can cause BG to drop. I don’t feel qualified to explain this in a technical way, but what I recall is that the liver is a uni-tasking organ: it can do only one thing at a time. So, if one has drunk excess alcohol (more than 1 serving of alcohol per hour), and the liver is working hard to… Read more »

11 years ago

Oddly enough I discovered a few years ago when out clubbing in Brussels that a local brew charmingly called “Satan Red”, if quaffed at a rate of one large bottle per hour, perfectly balanced out the energy burnt off by boogying like a maniac on the dance floor. The result was perfect, steady blood glucose levels until 4am. 
I tell you, these Belgians brewers know how to help us diabetics.

Sysy Morales
11 years ago

I’m not a huge fan of beer or wine mostly because I find I have to give insulin and then watch out for lows.  My favorite drink is scotch and I’ve been lucky to experience that with one shot, I don’t have to do anything as long as my blood sugar is between 80-120.  Higher than that however, and I will start to creep up.  Odd isn’t it?  Anyway, I leave it for occasions and stick with sparkling water with lemon when I want something other than water or coffee.  A beer on a hot day at a barbeque IS… Read more »

Seth Rothberg
Seth Rothberg
11 years ago

I have trouble bolusing for alcohol, too. It’s a challenge I never refuse.

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