Basic Food Groups Part 6

Articles - Dr. Bernstein Shares His Insights

Diabetes Solution Revised and Updated
The Complete Guide to Achieving Normal Blood Sugars

Richard K. Bernstein, M.D., F.A.C.E., F.A.C.N., C.W.S.
Chapter 9
Part 6: Alcohol

The Basic Food Groups

“There is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate.”

In Chapter 1 we discussed how diabetics and nondiabetics might react to a particular meal. Here we’ll talk about how specific kinds of foods can affect your blood sugar.

Alcohol can provide calories, or energy, without directly raising blood sugar, but if you’re an insulin-dependent diabetic, you need to be cautious about drinking. Ethyl alcohol, which is the active ingredient in hard liquor, beer, and wine, has no direct effect on blood sugar because the body does not convert it into glucose. In the case of distilled spirits and very dry wine, the alcohol generally isn’t accompanied by enough carbohydrate to affect your blood sugar very much. For example, 100 proof gin has 83 calories per ounce. These extra calories can increase your weight slightly, but not your blood sugar. Different beers—ales, stouts, and lagers—can have varying amounts of carbohydrate, which is slow enough in its action that if you figure it into your meal plan, it may not raise your blood sugar. Mixed drinks and dessert wines can be loaded with sugar, so they’re best avoided. Exceptions would be a dry martini or mixed drinks that can be made with a sugar-free mixer, such as sugar-free tonic water.

Ethyl alcohol, however, can indirectly lower the blood sugars of some diabetics if consumed at the time of a meal. It does this by partially paralyzing the liver and thereby inhibiting gluconeogenesis so that it can’t convert all the protein of the meal into glucose. For the average adult, this appears to be a significant effect with doses greater than 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, or one standard shot glass. If you have two 1.5-ounce servings of gin with a meal, your liver’s ability to convert protein into glucose may be impaired. If you’re insulin-dependent and your calculation of how much insulin you’ll require to cover your meal is based on, say, two hot dogs, and those hot dogs don’t get 7.5 percent converted to glucose, the insulin you’ve injected will take your blood sugar too low. You’ll have hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar.

The problem of hypoglycemia itself is a relatively simple matter to correct—you just eat some glucose and your blood sugar will rise. But this gets you into the kind of messy jerking up and down of your blood sugar that can cause problems. It’s best if you can avoid hypo and hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) entirely.

Another problem with alcohol and hypoglycemia is that if you consume much alcohol, you’ll have symptoms typical of both alcohol intoxication and hypoglycemia—light-headedness, confusion, and slurring of speech. The only way you’ll know the cause of your symptoms is if you’ve been monitoring your blood sugar throughout your meal. This is unlikely. So you could find yourself thinking you’ve consumed too much alcohol when in fact your problem is dangerously low blood sugar. In such a situation, it wouldn’t even occur to you to check your blood sugar. Remember, that early blood sugar–measuring device I got was developed in order to help emergency room staffs tell the difference between unconscious alcoholics and unconscious diabetics. Don’t make yourself an unconscious diabetic. A simple oversight could turn fatal.

Many of the symptoms of alcohol intoxication mimic those of ketoacidosis, or the extreme high blood sugar and ketone buildup in the body that can result in diabetic coma. The buildup of ketones causes a diabetic’s breath to have an aroma rather like that of someone who’s been drinking. If you don’t die of severe hypoglycemia, then you might easily die of embarrassment when you come to and your friends are aghast and terrified that the emergency squad had to be called to bring you around.

In small amounts, alcohol is relatively harmless—one glass of dry wine or beer with dinner—but if you’re the type who can’t limit drinking, it’s best to avoid it entirely. For the reasons already discussed, alcohol can be more benign between meals than it is at meals. One benevolent effect of alcohol is that it can enable some diabetics to consume one beer or one bloody Mary (tomato juice mixed with an ounce and a half of vodka) without raising blood sugar.

To see Part 1-5: and other Dr. Bernstein’s Features, go here.

We would like to thank the publisher Little Brown and Company and Dr. Richard K. Bernstein, for allowing us to provide excerpts from Diabetes Solution.

Copyright © 2003 by Richard K. Bernstein, M.D.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

Author’s Note
This book is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. The reader should regularly consult a physician for all health-related problems and routine care.

For information on how you can purchase Diabetes Solution, go to
Now on Special for $19.95. Regular $27.95 A savings of 8 dollars Plus FREE BONUS with purchase.
"Getting to the Heart of Diabetes" is a guide to understanding CVD, diabetes and insulin resistance. This is a small guide with 4 chapters, Diabetes, Insulin Resistance, Controlling Diabetes and Warning Signs for heart attacks and strokes. After reading the booklet, your patient can take the next step by putting their new knowledge into action. As part of the program patients receive the following free of charge………….

1. Heart of Diabetes Journal to track your progress in managing your diabetes and reducing your risk for cardiovascular disease;
2. 12-month subscription to Diabetes Positive magazine; and
3. Incentives throughout the year to help stay motivated.
ORDER NOW! or Call 1-800-798-6972 or
Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Dr. Bernstein’s New Book: The Diabetes Diet
Now Available for Delivery Jan. 10, 2005

Diabetes Management, Diabetes Treatment, Diabetes Education, Normal Blood Sugar Get Adobe Acrobat Now Tip: To save PDF's without viewing first, right-click the link and choose "Save Target As" from pop-up menu

This Web site and its contents are Copyright 2000-2009 by Richard K. Bernstein, M.D., Little, Brown & Company, and/or other copyright holders as may apply. No portion of this Web site may be reproduced in whole or in part without the express written consent of Little, Brown & Company and/or Richard K. Bernstein, M.D. and/or any other respective copyright holder(s).