Fancy a drink?
You can drink if you have So how does this affect your diabetes?
WhaT Is ONe UNIT Of
being treated with just diet alone or diet
know how to drink safely, and metformin (Glucophage) after having
writes Anne Mullan
blood sugars are a bit higher than usual
rish people love to drink. Birthdays, wed-
before going to bed (due to the sugar in the
drinks); and that your blood sugars are a bit
lower than usual when you wake up (due to
the effects of the alcohol you’ve had).
ing the arrival of yet another Monday – we
1 unit of alcohol =
or are taking insulin or sulphonylureas (eg
Diamicron or Amaryl) for type 2 diabetes
Does this mean that you must sit stoically
with your glass of sparkling water while
happy answer to that question is no. Most
and right into the next day. And the more
you have to drink the more likely this is to
thing when you have diabetes is learning
Alcohol and your liver
heavy or binge drinking and diabetes just
many people don’t realise is that your
liver also plays a vital role in keeping your
put diabetes in the mix, it’s even more
your liver is to keep a store of sugar in it.
If your blood sugar starts to drop too low
Sensible drinking is the key and happily
(you are going a bit hypo) your liver sends
there is evidence to suggest that moderate
this sugar out into your blood to bring it
for us (though this evidence isn’t strong
However, the main role of your liver is to
break down any food or drug that might be
healthy limits apply to all the population,
might love it, alcohol is essentially toxic to
us. Because of this, as soon as we start to
culator that lets you work out the number
drink, our liver gets busy breaking down this
of alcohol units in what you have had to
alcohol in order to get rid of it. This is such
a priority for the liver that it doesn’t notice
as your blood sugar starts to drop. And the
than 2-3 units at any one time. Fourteen
Will drinking affect my weight?
more drinks you have, the less likely your
weight–or trying to keep it off-is a con-
stant struggle. It’s easy to forget how many calories alcohol can contribute to
Reduce your risk of having a hypo
For people on insulin or taking sulphonylureas (eg. Diamicron, Amaryl), it is essential
lent to about three slices of bread. If you
that you reduce your risk of going hypo when you are drinking. This is especially impor-
tant as, once you’ve had a few drinks, you may not notice your own hypo symptoms and
evening you are getting the calories of up
the people around you may just assume that you are drunk.
to an extra nine slices of bread in the day. It’s no wonder the weight isn’t shifting!
Never drink alcohol on an empty stomach.
Some companies now do ‘light’ versions
Always make sure you have something to eat before you drink. Whatever you eat must
of their beers and lagers, for example Bud
contain some form of starchy carbohydrate, for example bread, potatoes, rice or pasta.
Because most alcoholic drinks contain some sugar many people make the mistake of thinking they should eat less before drinking. The opposite is true. Though initially the
carbohydrate in your drinks may cause your sugars to rise, very soon the alcohol will lower
your blood sugar and so you actually need to eat more when you are having a few drinks.
(about 100-110 calories per 330ml/12 oz bottle or can); compared with the stand-
Always have something to eat before you go to bed
ard versions (about 130-150 calories per
Because your liver will keep breaking down the alcohol in your system throughout the
330mls). Not a huge difference but if you
night your sugars can keep dropping. A side effect of the alcohol may mean that you
are minding every calorie you might want
don’t wake up until your blood sugar is very low. If you’ve been drinking you must have
some form of starchy snack, for example breakfast cereal, toast or a sandwich, before
For cider drinkers watching their weight
it is worth trying the Bulmers lite. This has the same alcohol content as ordinary
insulin and alcohol – keeping yourself safe
cider, but has no sugar and contains just
Binge drinking is part of the Irish youth culture. A night of Jaeger bombs, Supersplits,
78 calories per half pint compared to 115
Mickey Finns and alcopops can add up to a huge amount of alcohol and sugar con-
calories for half pint of regular Bulmers.
sumed in a very short space of time. This is about as bad as it gets for your diabetes as
first your bloods soar with the sugar rush and then plummet due to all the alcohol. Not
shorts aren’t quite so high in calories
to mention the amount of calories you’re getting!
If you’re out for a night make sure that you’ve eaten beforehand. As mentioned never
Adding diet mixers can help you reduce the number of drinks that you are having.
When you are out try keeping to longer drinks with a lower alcohol and sugar content
Sweetened shorts, for example, liqueurs,
• Wine spritzed with soda water or diet lemonade.
all alcoholic drinks contain calories and
Avoid using high sugar energy drinks (like Red Bull) or sweet juices (like pineapple or
the more you drink the more they add up.
orange juice) as a mixer. Having a non-alcoholic, sugar-free drink every second drink,
for example fizzy water, diet coke or diet lemonade, is also very helpful.
the units of alcohol and the calories in what you’ve had to drink.
• Make sure your friends or the people you are drinking with know that you have dia-
betes, that they know what your hypo symptoms are and know how to treat them.
message for all of us, with or without dia-
• It’s essential that you carry (or better still, wear) some form of ID to alert people
betes is: Never Drink and Drive.
Please note: In Ireland, it is illegal to
• If you are making a big night of it and heading for a club you’ll probably also need
in a public place below the age of 18.
• Most importantly don’t forget you starchy bedtime snack. If you’ve nothing in the
house, a burger or chips or kebab on the way home is better than nothing.
Anne Mullan is Regional Development
• Keep a check on your blood sugars. At the very least, check them before you go out
Officer/Dietitian, Diabetes Federation
of ireland, Western Area
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