If you have been diagnosed with prediabetes, it’s important to watch your food and beverage intake carefully. When it comes to alcohol, it’s best to avoid drinking whenever you can. But if you do choose to drink, then you might be wondering which drinks are worst and which ones are best.
Here’s your guide to alcoholic beverages with prediabetes, so you can better understand how to choose the healthiest drink options.
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Why it’s smart to limit or avoid alcohol completely
If you have prediabetes, then it’s a good idea to cut back on your alcohol consumption and save your alcoholic beverages for special occasions only.
You see, drinking alcohol makes you more likely to have issues with blood sugar regulation and increases your risk of getting prediabetes. Being a heavy drinker makes you even more likely to develop prediabetes and set yourself up for getting diabetes in the future.[1-3]
Experts recommend that you stay away from alcohol if you have prediabetes – or to at least limit your intake. Alcohol can interfere with insulin function and disrupt healthy blood sugar regulation, leading to harmful swings in blood sugar that can be very risky. Alcohol can also contribute to weight gain, which is one of the risk factors for diabetes.[4-7]
Alcoholic beverages: the best and worst options
Not drinking alcohol at all really is best, but we know that many people like to have a drink or two on special occasions as a treat. So if you are going to choose to drink an alcoholic beverage, which options are the least problematic?
To make healthy choices, you’ll need to pay attention to calories, carbs, and sugars in your beverages.
The problem is that nutrition info for alcoholic beverages can be very, very hard to find. It’s usually not on the label, so you have to go out of your way if you want to read nutrition facts. Because of this, many of us end up consuming more calories, sugars, and carbs than we realize in the form of alcohol.
On average, adults in the U.S. consume about 100 calories per day from alcoholic beverages, but many consume more like 300 calories from alcohol each day. And most people don’t compensate for this by cutting down on other foods and drinks, they just consume the alcohol in addition to their normal daily diets.
To give you a rough idea, 12 oz. of 5% beer has about 150 calories, 5 oz. of 12% wine has about 120 calories, and 7 oz. of a rum and cola has about 155 calories total. But the nutrition content of drinks can vary a lot depending on the specific type, flavor, brand, and ingredients used.
Here’s a guide to common alcoholic drinks and how to choose the healthiest options:
If you choose the right kind, beer can be an appropriate choice to drink in moderation.
Because sugar is consumed in the fermentation process, beer usually contains negligible amounts of sugar.
The trick is to choose light beers, which have lower calories and carbohydrates. Light beers have about 103 calories on average, whereas craft beers can be much higher – up to 350 calories.
Here are some common beer choices to show you how the calorie and carb content can vary widely between different varieties:
- Bud Light – 103 calories and 5 g carbs,
- Heineken – 142 calories and 11 g of carbs.
- Budweiser (regular) – 146 calories and 11 g of carbs.
- Coors Banquet – 147 calories and 12 g of carbs.
- Stella Artois Lager – 141 calories and 11 g of carbs.
- Pyramid Brewing Outburst IPA – 260 calories and 21 g of carbohydrates.
- Modelo Especial Chelada – 290 calories and 35 g of carbs.
Stick to light beers, and be careful of craft beers like IPAs or darker beers that are higher in carbohydrates and calories. These should be completely avoided if at all possible.
Most wine is relatively low in carbohydrates and sugar, making it an acceptable choice if you have prediabetes. It’s also pretty low in calories, with around 120-130 calories per 5 oz. glass. Like beer, the type and brand of wine you choose will determine the calorie, carb, and sugar content. Dessert wines are higher in calories than other wines, for example, with around 160 calories per glass.
Here’s a breakdown of the nutrition content of common types of wine:
- Light wine – 2 g of carbohydrates and 2 g of sugar.
- Red table wine – 5 g of carbs and only 1 g of sugar.
- White table wine – 5 g of carbs and 2 g of sugar.
- Dessert wine – 168 calories, 14 g of carbs, and 8 g of sugar.
Straight alcohol still contains calories, but it won’t give you any carbs or sugar. That makes liquor a smart choice if you are trying to limit your carbohydrate and sugar intake for your prediabetes.
Distilled alcohol like gin, vodka, whiskey, and rum contain around 97-116 calories per serving (which is 1.5 oz.).
The problem occurs when you start to mix your liquors with unhealthy mixer ingredients – which dramatically change the nutrition content of your beverage.
4. Mixed drinks
While liquor itself isn’t high in sugar or carbs, mixed drinks can be very harmful – depending on what ingredients are used.
If you are mixing your alcohol with syrups, juices, and sodas, this can quickly put you at risk for sugar overload and dramatic spikes in blood glucose levels. A vodka and cola, for example, will be much less healthy than vodka mixed with unsweetened seltzer and lime.
Here are examples of some high-calorie mixed drinks that contain a lot of added sugars:
- Mai tai – 306 calories, 31g of carbohydrates, 24 g of sugar.[10,22]
- Pina colada – 526 calories, 44 g of carbs, and 40 g of sugar.[10, 23]
- White Russian – 568 calories, 25 g of carbs, and 22 g of sugar.[10,24]
If you want a cocktail, mixers like seltzer water and fresh citrus juice are healthy alternatives. Mixed drinks made with ingredients like these can still be fairly low in calories, carbs, and sugar.
5. Hard seltzers
Over the past few years, hard seltzers have quickly gained in popularity. If you choose to have an alcoholic beverage, hard seltzers are not a bad option. They usually have a relatively low alcohol content and are fairly low in calories, carbs, and sugar compared to other types of alcohol.
One popular brand called White Claw contains 2 g of carbs, 2 g of sugar, and 100 calories per 12 oz. can.
The final word
While no alcohol is usually the best choice, not everyone wants to go completely cold turkey with alcohol. If you must have an alcoholic drink, some choices are much better than others to help prevent blood sugar spikes and keep yourself healthy in the long run.
Some alcoholic beverages (like fruity mixed drinks) are quite high in sugar, carbs, and calories. Your safest choices will be those that stay away from high-carb and high-sugar ingredients.
Stick to dry and light wines, light beers, spirits mixed with sparkling water or fresh citrus, or hard seltzers. Stay away from high-calorie heavy beers, dessert wines, and fruity and sugary mixed drinks or cocktails.
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And be sure to watch your serving sizes and only drink in moderation. Moderate consumption means no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men, and a serving size of alcohol means 12 oz. of beer, 5 oz. of wine, or 1.5 oz. of distilled spirits.
Want to learn more about drinking alcohol with prediabetes? Click here.