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How to Enjoy the Holidays as a Diabetic

Diabetes and Drinking
Moderating your drinking -- especially during the holidays -- is always a wise choice.
Moderating your drinking -- especially during the holidays -- is always a wise choice.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Does alcohol mix with your holiday meal plan? It's a bit like juggling a plate, fork, and glass while standing at the buffet table -- drinking alcohol is truly a balancing act for people with diabetes. Recent research on alcohol points to both health benefits and risks, based on a number of factors.

One of the most important is weight. For people with diabetes who maintain normal weight, the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption (see sidebar) include lowered risks of cardiac disease, lowered inflammatory responses, and increases in the "good" HDL cholesterol.

Depending on what kind of drink you choose, there are even more perks. Dark beer and red wine contain plant-based flavonoids and other antioxidant compounds with health-protective qualities.

However, people with diabetes who are overweight should avoid alcohol because it adds excess calories to the diet. In addition, alcohol can depress metabolic function and stimulate the appetite.

The universal risks of drinking alcohol are well known: Excessive drinking can lead to alcoholism, and drinking and driving are a truly dangerous combination.

Other possible consequences include physical or emotional deterioration. For example, alcohol increases the risks of low blood sugar for up to 24 hours after drinking. Even moderate amounts of alcohol can trigger high blood pressure and raise triglyceride levels.

Alcohol also can worsen diabetic neuropathy and cause gastric distress. And for women who are in menopause, alcohol may increase the severity of hot flashes.

Alcohol alters mood. It is a central nervous system depressant and makes seasonal sadness worse in those people prone to it. If you get the "holiday blues," it is wise to abstain from alcohol.

Instead, have some purple grape juice or homemade hot cocoa (made with minimal sugar or a sugar substitute). Or have black tea, which has the benefit of extra health-protecting flavonoids.

Here are tips for those who wish to toast the season with a favorite alcoholic beverage:

  • Discuss drinking with your doctor and certified diabetes educator before you add alcohol to your meal plan.
  • Symptoms of low blood sugar can mimic intoxication, so be extra careful during the holiday season to avoid driving with low blood sugar and/or driving after drinking.
  • Know your portion sizes: Goblets may be gorgeous on the holiday table, but some large glasses actually hold double- or triple-serving sizes.
  • A snack after drinking helps to maintain blood glucose levels. Be sure to check your blood sugar levels with a monitor after drinking and before bedtime to prevent nighttime lows.
  • After careful assessment of your health needs, it's possible that you can balance moderate alcohol consumption in your eating plan and still control your diabetes. Just be sure to make the right decision for you.
  • Remember that whether or not you partake of alcohol, you can still enjoy socializing during the holidays. Bring your own beverage of choice, and join in the toast, "To your health!"

Get in the party-planning mode by learning how to create an elegant holiday feast on the next page.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.