Is beer harmful to diabetics

Drink as you please

"Beer is healthy" or "Those who drink wine live longer" are the promising headlines in the tabloids. But does alcohol actually have positive properties? And if so, how much should you drink then? The nutrition experts at the German Diabetes Research Institute in Düsseldorf got to the bottom of the matter.


If you give people with diabetes recommendations for a healthy diet suitable for diabetes, then an open word on the subject of alcohol should not be missing. This is not about banning alcohol. but rather to provide information about this luxury food.

Alcohol is produced when sugar is fermented from fruit, grain, rice or potatoes. After ingestion, it gets very quickly from the stomach and intestines into the blood. Even in small amounts, it affects our body with partly exciting and partly dampening effects on the central nervous system and the psyche.

In the last 20 years, alcohol consumption in Germany has more than quadrupled. Beer and wine top the long list of alcoholic beverages. Statistically speaking, men drink more than women. Many also forget to calculate the alcohol in the daily intake of energy. Men consume around seven percent of food energy and women around four percent in the form of alcohol. Concrete recommendations for the amount of alcohol in diabetes mellitus are made difficult by the fact that it can have both unfavorable and beneficial effects. Alcohol in moderation increases the "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against vascular diseases.

Small amounts can also reduce blood clotting and thus make the blood more fluid. Certain substances in wine - the technical term is antioxidants - also delay the development of a particularly aggressive form of "bad" LDL cholesterol. This is also the reason why fewer cardiovascular diseases occur in typical wine countries such as France, Spain, Portugal and Italy. But all these good effects only come into play when really little alcohol is drunk.

The dangers

Whether you have diabetes or not, alcohol can have a number of undesirable effects. It significantly reduces the ability to react, acts as a cell and nerve toxin and can lead to addiction. Too much alcohol consumption can also have harmful effects on blood pressure, blood lipids, liver and pancreas.

In the case of severe neuropathy and during pregnancy, alcohol should definitely be avoided. And even those who have a few pounds too much on their ribs should be careful with the luxury food. Because one gram of alcohol contains seven kilocalories, almost as much energy as one gram of fat (nine kilocalories) and is often to blame for obesity. Alcohol is therefore completely unsuitable as a thirst quencher.

Alcohol and hypoglycaemia

In diabetes treated with insulin or sulfonylurea tablets, alcohol carries another danger: hypoglycaemia.

Alcohol is broken down in the liver. This takes many hours, in the case of large quantities, possibly until the next day. During this time, alcohol blocks the release of glucose from the liver reservoir. Consequence: The blood sugar level drops because it is no longer "replenished" from the liver. A boozy night can be particularly risky for diabetics - especially if they have previously been accompanied by vigorous physical activity such as sport. It becomes particularly dangerous if the signs of the onset of hypoglycaemia are not noticed due to the alcohol intoxication - and that is usually at night. Therefore: Eat one or two carbohydrate servings with every alcohol consumption, which have an effect on blood sugar as long as possible.

Tips for dealing with alcohol for diabetes

  • Keep in mind the high energy content of alcohol. If you want to lose weight, it is best to do without it altogether.
  • During treatment with sulfonylurea tablets or with insulin, alcohol should never be drunk on an "empty stomach", but always with a meal or snack containing carbohydrates.
  • After sport or other additional physical activity, alcoholic beverages are taboo (greatly increased risk of hypoglycaemia!).
  • Alcohol slows down your reactions. Therefore, and because of the increased risk of hypoglycaemia, no alcohol when driving!
  • Check your blood sugar after drinking alcohol in order to detect possible blood sugar fluctuations and to be able to react quickly.
  • Before going to sleep after drinking alcohol, the blood sugar should be higher than usual, for example 180 instead of 120 mg / dl (10.1 instead of 6.7 mmol / l).

Some alcoholic beverages, such as liqueurs and sweet wine, contain large amounts of sugar. They are unsuitable for diabetes because they increase blood sugar very quickly. This also applies to non-alcoholic beers. Almost all of the alcohol has been removed from them, but they contain more malt sugar and therefore a poor amount of carbohydrates.
The malt sugar has been reduced in the diet beer, but the alcohol content is by no means lower than in normal beer. It therefore offers no decisive advantage over conventional beers. The risk of hypoglycaemia is even greater!

Alcoholic beverages: there's so much in it

beveragesquantityAlcohol in gCarbohydrates in gEnergy in kcal
beerGlass (0.3 l)
Bottle (0.5 l)
Light beerBottle (0.5 l)1210130
Alcohol beerBottle (0.5 l)128140
Diet beerBottle (0.5 l)195150
Wine, dryGlass (0.125 l)
Bottle (0.25 l)
CiderGlass (0.2 l)106-1490-130
Dry sparkling wineGlass (0.1 l)101,575
sherryGlass (5 cl)8185
Klarer 38 vol.%Glass (0.2 cl)6-45
whiskeyGlass (0.4 cl)14-100
Many wines are suitable

The same goes for wines. When consuming small amounts (one or two glasses), the carbohydrate content is not a problem. But it shouldn't be more, because of the alcohol. Most types of wine are suitable. Although the sweet varieties contain more carbohydrates, these are mainly in the form of fructose in high-quality wines, which has hardly any effect on blood sugar. In brandy there are hardly any carbohydrates, but a lot of alcohol.

As is so often the case when it comes to healthy eating, the following applies: the amount counts! Nutritionists recommend that women drink no more than 10 grams per day, and men not drink more than 20 grams of alcohol per day. 20 grams is roughly equivalent to a bottle of beer (0.5 liters) or two small glasses of wine (0.1 liter per glass). So it is no problem at all to toast the festival or the New Year with a glass. Those with weight problems should try to make up for the extra calories from alcohol by saving fat.

Khadija Benamri and Dr. med. Monika Toeller from the nutrition team at the German Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Düsseldorf

from diabetic guide 12/2000

Created on: 03/18/2003
Updated on: December 17, 2004