Most people with diabetes can drink alcohol, including wine, as long as they do not have another medical condition that makes drinking alcohol unsafe.

Wine may even offer some protective health benefits in small quantities. However, it is best to be aware of how alcohol can affect diabetes and how to manage this. For example, it can increase the risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), as it interferes with blood sugar levels.

This article explains the relationship between wine and diabetes and provides other dietary tips for people with this condition.

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Wine contains a relatively low sugar level, with red and white wines containing less than 1.5 grams (g) of sugar per standard 5-ounce (oz) serving.

Wine coolers (which contain juice) and other flavored wine drinks tend to be sweeter and often have a higher sugar and calorie content.

In almost all cases, though, wine’s sugar content is unlikely to affect a person’s daily sugar intake significantly.

Calories and weight gain

Alcohol is a relatively high calorie drink, particularly considering that it has no nutritional value. For example, a glass of red wine weighing 180 g contains about 153 calories.

Drinking several glasses of wine per day can increase the calories a person consumes, potentially leading to weight gain. Weight gain may increase the risk of certain diabetes complications.

Other considerations

Drinking alcohol can cause a buildup of harmful acids in the blood and dangerously low blood sugar.

Combining alcohol with common diabetes medications, such as insulin and sulfonylureas, can also cause low blood glucose.

Additionally, the symptoms of hypoglycemia are also signs of being drunk, such as:

This can mask the signs of hypoglycemia and cause it to go untreated, which can be dangerous.

Drinking alcohol safely

Drinking a small amount of alcohol occasionally and on a full stomach is not likely to significantly affect blood glucose levels.

People with diabetes who want to drink wine can, therefore, do so in moderation. However, it is important that they do this in conjunction with a balanced diet and only when their blood sugar is well-managed.

Sticking to relatively low calorie and low sugar red and white wines can help people minimize their sugar intake.

Other wines may have a higher sugar content and more calories. A sweet dessert wine, for example, typically has nearly double the calories of red or white wine, at 240 calories per 5-oz serving. This amount also contains about 11.7 g of sugar.

Although there are no official recommendations around the benefits of wine, a 2018 study notes that drinking red wine in moderation might have positive effects related to:

However, the American Heart Association (AHA) emphasizes that all studies showing the potential health benefits of alcohol for heart health rely on correlations rather than causal relationships.

There is no proof that wine can directly protect the heart or offer other health benefits. For this reason, people at higher risk of heart disease, which includes those with diabetes, should take particular care to limit their alcohol intake.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025, drinking in moderation means limiting a person’s intake to 2 drinks or less per day for males and 1 drink or less per day for females. Drinking less is always better for health than drinking more.

Learn more about wine and its potential health benefits here.

Alcohol, including wine, may increase the risk of dangerously low blood sugar, even in people who are not taking insulin or other diabetes medications.

The liver releases glucose to help the body maintain a healthy blood sugar level. It also must break down alcohol. So, when a person is drinking, the liver is less effective at releasing glucose when the body needs it.

The risk of alcohol-related low glucose is higher when a person:

  • drinks on an empty stomach
  • takes diabetes medication or insulin
  • replaces a meal with alcohol
  • drinks to excess

It takes the liver about 1–1.5 hours to break down one drink of alcohol. Until the body successfully metabolizes the alcohol, the risk of low blood glucose persists.

Learn more about alcohol and diabetes here.

People with diabetes can reduce their risk of health complications by following a diabetes-friendly diet.

Recommendations for eating

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends eating more frequent, smaller meals rather than three large meals a day. These may include:

The CDC also recommends a person have a moderate body weight for their body type to reduce the risk of diabetes-related complications.

Recommendations for drinking

If they drink alcohol, people can take the following measures to do so more safely:

  • stopping after one or two drinks
  • eating food alongside drinking alcohol
  • refraining from exercising while under the influence of alcohol, as exercise lowers blood sugar
  • avoiding drinking on an empty stomach, after skipping a meal, if blood glucose is not well-managed, or if the person has a history of adverse reactions to alcohol

Emergency help will be necessary if a person faints or experiences other symptoms of low blood glucose.

Most people with diabetes can safely drink alcohol in moderation. However, it is important that people monitor how alcohol makes them feel and stop drinking right away if they feel dizzy or weak.

People with alcohol use disorder or a history of binge drinking should contact a doctor about safe strategies for reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption.