Can People with Diabetes Drink Beer?

It's essential to know how to drink safely to keep your blood sugar in a healthy range and avoid complications.

According to the latest estimates from the American Diabetes Association, more than 37 million Americans have diabetes, whether diagnosed or undiagnosed. In 2017, the estimated direct medical costs associated with diabetes in the U.S. were $237 billion. Living with diabetes can present significant financial, social and personal burdens, and knowing how to manage diabetes effectively can help you feel empowered to limit these burdensome effects.

Many people believe that living with diabetes means opting out of certain foods and beverages entirely. However, you might enjoy drinking alcoholic beverages like beer. If you're wondering whether or not it's still possible to enjoy a beer when you have diabetes, the answer is yes—but it's important to know how to do so safely.

Beer is a significant source of carbohydrates, so it can impact blood sugar. Depending on the type, it can also be high in calories, so drinking beer may contribute to weight gain over time. Some types of beer can be higher in alcohol too. Additionally, according to the ADA, because the liver prioritizes clearing alcohol from the body, drinking alcohol can slow down carb metabolism, potentially leading to low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Drinking any alcohol when taking diabetes medications can exacerbate this effect as well. So it's essential to be mindful when consuming alcoholic beverages like beer when you have diabetes.

In this article, we'll discuss the nutrition of beer, how it impacts your blood sugar levels and things to keep in mind so you can enjoy it in moderation.

a group of friends raising their cans of beers for a cheers
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Beer Nutrition

Beer is a staple beverage throughout the year, from fall football season to the winter holidays to the Fourth of July. It can even be used in various recipes to give a distinctive flavor—bread, soups and braised meats can all include beer. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, one serving of beer is considered to be 12 ounces and 5% alcohol. Note that in bars and restaurants, pours may differ (for instance, a pint glass holds 16 ounces).

A 12-ounce can of beer has, on average, per the USDA:

  • Calories: 150
  • Carbohydrates: 13 grams
  • Alcohol: 14 grams
  • Protein: 2 grams

Interestingly, beer also contains very small amounts of vitamins and minerals such as B vitamins, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus. Since it has nearly one carb serving (15 grams of carbs = one carb choice for carb-counting purposes), beer could significantly affect blood sugar and must be treated accordingly.

How Beer Impacts Your Blood Sugar Levels

When you live with diabetes, your body has trouble getting sugar into your bloodstream to be utilized by the cells in your body. This can lead to your blood having too much sugar, a state called hyperglycemia, which can damage organs and body tissues. When people without diabetes consume sugar, it is rapidly absorbed and utilized by the body. Their pancreas secretes insulin to help the sugar enter the body's cells, where it is used for energy.

Drinking alcohol can cause hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, so it's essential to keep this in mind if you plan on drinking. This happens because your liver, where glucose is stored until the body needs energy, also is responsible for clearing alcohol from your system, so may be delayed in releasing necessary sugars into the bloodstream. You'll need to know how and be prepared to treat low blood sugar if it does occur.

Symptoms of low blood sugar can often be similar to being affected by alcohol. These symptoms include:

  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Confusion
  • Feeling sleepy
  • Loss of consciousness in more extreme cases

Drinking in moderation and monitoring your blood sugar are wise moves to ensure you won't experience hypoglycemia. It's also best practice to keep a form of identification on you that says that you have diabetes, in case you need medical assistance and are unconscious. There are bracelets, keychains, necklaces or even tattoos that can provide this information in an emergency.

Can You Drink Beer If You Have Diabetes?

Yes, you can usually drink beer safely if you have diabetes, but it's not without risks. Drinking any form of alcohol can affect your blood sugar levels, so you need to limit your intake to what is safe for you by knowing your own limits.

You should also be aware of the symptoms of hypoglycemia and be mindful that they are similar to a drunken state. It's a good idea to alert anyone you are enjoying alcohol with of signs to be on the lookout for, so they can help or get you help should the need arise.

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends females limit their daily alcohol intake to one drink a day and males limit their intake to two. In the case of beer, one 12-ounce can is considered one drink. If you abide by these guidelines, consuming alcohol is generally safe when living with diabetes.

Studies show that excessively consuming alcoholic beverages of any kind increases your risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease, liver disease and kidney disease. When you live with a chronic condition already, it is wise to take this into account and take the current recommendations to drink moderately seriously. And if you are taking medication for your diabetes or for any other health condition, it's important to discuss with your health care team any possible effects from mixing alcohol and medication.

If you are going to consume alcohol, it's a good idea to consume it with food. This will be better for your blood sugar than drinking on an empty stomach. Be sure to stay hydrated by drinking water with your beer, too.

The Bottom Line

People with diabetes have to take special care with what they consume, and alcohol is no exception. Drinking alcoholic beverages can impact blood sugar, so it's important to be mindful about your alcohol consumption.

Many people have the perception that alcoholic beverages like beer are off-limits with diabetes, but this is not necessarily the case. While ideally alcohol would be avoided or enjoyed only occasionally, you may be able to drink regularly when you have diabetes as long as you do so in moderation. That's a limit of one to two 12-ounce beer(s) per day.

If you notice you are experiencing symptoms like dizziness, slurred speech, confusion or feeling sleepy after drinking, you may be experiencing hypoglycemia. Talk with your health care provider to make sure you have a game plan, such as keeping glucose tablets or other quickly absorbed forms of sugar on hand, should this occur. They can recommend a plan that's tailored to your specific needs.

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