Contrary to press reports that we should all drink some alcohol for health reasons - who hasn’t read an article claiming red wine is good for your heart? – the evidence simply doesn’t support this.
According to NHS England, the average wine drinker consumes 2,000 calories from alcohol every month, and the average beer drinker - drinking 5 pints of lager a week - takes 44,200 calories a year, the equivalent of 221 doughnuts.
If you have diabetes, and are on insulin or medication that can cause hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose or ‘hypos’), you should be aware that alcohol makes hypos more likely as it stops the release of glucose from your liver, something your liver would normally be doing 24 hours a day. Alcohol can also cause delayed hypos.
How clued up are you about alcohol and diabetes?
Your diabetes and drinking
If you have type 1 diabetes, courses like DAFNE can give you advice on how different types of alcoholic drinks can affect your blood glucose levels, and also suggest appropriate insulin adjustment and where this may be necessary. However, it is stressed on the course that people may respond to alcohol in different ways, and it’s advised that monitoring your blood glucose before and after drinking will help you to discover your own requirements. We'd also recommend talking to your healthcare professional before thinking about adjusting your insulin for alcohol in beers.
ABV means alcohol by volume. The strength of alcoholic drinks has increased over the years, with new wines from South America, South Australia and South Africa containing 14% ABV or higher – this means that a bottle will contain approximately 10.5 units and 750 calories, and a large 250ml glass can be over 3 units and 200 calories.
Many labels on alcoholic drinks clearly depict the alcohol and calorie content so, just like food labels, it pays to look at them closely.
Alcohol and weight control
If you’ve ever been on a diet, you’ll know that alcohol rarely features in the menu plans. This is not to say that you can’t have the occasional drink whilst losing weight, just that drinking makes weight loss more difficult.
Not only does alcohol contain lots of calories (these are basically ‘empty’ calories, with no nutritional value), but it also stops your body burning fat as all its attention is turned to burning off the alcohol.
Alcohol also reduces leptin production which may be the reason why drinking alcohol makes you feel hungrier, and more likely to tuck into a late night kebab.
It also reduces your willpower - you are less likely to go for the healthier option when out for a meal, cooking a meal, or raiding the fridge at home.
Read on for some useful tips to keep the calories and alcohol down this summer:
- Make a long drink with a shot of spirits such as vodka or rum and use plenty of a mixer such as diet lemonade, diet ginger ale, diet cola or water. Top with plenty of ice.
- Go for lower-strength beers and wines, but avoid low alcohol drinks like Kaliber, Swan Light and Becks Blue as these drinks contain only carbohydrate and so are similar to drinking ordinary sugary drinks and are not recommended for people with diabetes.
- Just like using smaller plates can help you to eat less food, using smaller wine and beer glasses can help you drink less - try it, it really does work!
- Keep your drinking time to a set time. Having a drink at meal times works for some people.
- Measure drinks out at home as opposed to pouring from the bottle.
- Alternate with soft drinks. Shop around if you’re getting fed up with the usual diet soft drinks. There are so many different flavours available including diet pink lemonade, diet cherry cola, diet traditional lemonade and diet pink cranberry lemonade. If you are going to friends for a BBQ this summer bring your own as people often have only the ‘full fat’ variety of colas and lemonade!
- Drink slowly and alternate with water or diet, no-added-sugar soft drinks.
Alcohol-free beers compared
- Becks Blue 275ml bottle: 39 calories, 8.5g carbs, 0.6g sugars,
- Heineken Alcohol Free Beer 330ml bottle: 69kcal calories, 16g carbs, 4.3g sugar
- San Miguel 0.0% Alcohol 330ml bottle: 79 calories, 18.5g carbs, 5.6g sugar
- Stella Artois Premium Alcohol Free Lager Beer 330ml bottle: 60 calories, 13.9g carb, 2.6g sugar
- Brewdog Punk AF Alcohol Free IPA 330ml can: 50 calories, 10g carbs, 6 g sugar.
Compared to having a full sugar, 330ml can of coke (139 calories, 35g carb (all sugar) these drinks don't affect glucose levels as severely. However it's best to have less than 30g free (added) sugars per day. The sugar included in alcohol-free beers will contribute to your free sugar intake, so it's best to stick to sugar-free drinks when socialising where possible.
The calorie content is also available for some, but not all, alcoholic beers. For example, a 330ml can of Heineken standard 5% would be 139 calories, as the alcohol contributes calories.