Most people with diabetes can drink alcohol, including wine, as long as they do not have another medical condition that makes drinking unsafe.
Wine may even offer some protective health benefits in small quantities. However, alcohol dependence can be very dangerous for people with diabetes, as the complications of one condition can intensify those of the other.
This article explains the relationship between wine and diabetes and provides some other dietary tips for people with this condition.
Wine coolers (which contain juice) and other flavored wine drinks tend to be sweeter, and they often have a higher sugar and calorie content. In almost all cases, though, the sugar content of wine is unlikely to affect a person’s daily sugar intake significantly.
Alcohol is a relatively high calorie drink, particularly considering that it has no nutritional value. For example, a 5-oz serving of red wine contains about 128 calories. Drinking several glasses of wine each day can increase the number of calories a person consumes, potentially leading to weight gain.
Weight gain may increase the risk of certain diabetes complications. There is also evidence that long-term alcohol consumption, especially when excessive, correlates with a higher risk of diabetes complications, such as metabolism disturbances and eye damage. It can also cause a buildup of harmful acids in the blood and dangerously low blood sugar.
Most research shows that drinking a small amount of alcohol occasionally does not significantly affect blood glucose levels. People with diabetes who want to drink wine can, therefore, do so in moderation. However, they should take care to do this in conjunction with a healthful diet and only when their blood sugar is well-controlled.
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.
A few studies suggest that red wine may offer some health benefits.
A 2011 study on rats, for example, found that daily red wine consumption had antioxidant effects that could reduce the risk of some diabetes complications. A 2013 study on rats arrived at similar conclusions, suggesting that red wine may prevent certain types of nerve damage.
A 2014 cohort study of French women found a reduced risk of developing diabetes among individuals with overweight who consumed red wine.
The American Heart Association (AHA) emphasize 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 any 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.
The liver releases glucose to help the body maintain a healthy blood sugar level. The liver 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 about 1–1.5 hours for the liver to break down the alcohol in one drink. Until the body successfully metabolizes the alcohol, the risk of low blood glucose persists.
People with diabetes can reduce their risk of health complications by following a diabetes-friendly diet. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the following strategies:
- eating plenty of low glycemic index foods, such as whole wheat pasta and bread, milk, yogurt, and apples
- eating a high-fiber diet that includes foods such as whole grain bread, vegetables, and fruits, which can help lower blood glucose
- switching from eating three large meals a day to having more frequent, smaller meals
- eating plenty of lean proteins, such as chicken, turkey, and lentils
- reaching or maintaining a moderate body weight to reduce the risk of diabetes-related complications
People can take the following measures to drink more safely:
- stopping drinking after one or two drinks
- avoiding drinking on an empty stomach or after skipping a meal
- avoiding drinking if blood glucose is not well-controlled or the person has a history of negative reactions to alcohol
- eating food alongside drinking alcohol
- refraining from exercising while under the influence of alcohol, as exercise lowers blood sugar
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.