For those of us who are creatures of habit, and concerned about keeping our coffee, we’re also wondering about the fate of our favorite alcoholic drinks—is nothing sacred?! Alcohol may not be sacred but, by some divine luck, neither is alcohol the sugar demon people assume it to be. Yet, when folks who are aware of my low-carb diet see me drinking wine, they fall off their bar stools.
A persistent fallacy is that drinking alcohol is the same as drinking sugar. Yet pure alcohols, and dry wine and beer do not turn into, and are not metabolized like sugar, with the exception of a few carbs of residual fruit sugar that remain in dry wine—for example, less than a gram out of a 4 carb glass of dry wine. (This is different of course with sweet wines, where the fermentation process is stopped before all the sugar is eaten away by yeast and, in some cases, where vitners have even added extra sugar.)
In fact, surprisingly, studies show that drinking ‘moderate’ amounts of alcohol (a drink a day for women, 2 for men—okay let’s say a ‘small’ amount) may actually lower the risk of diabetes, especially for women, probably (but not definitively) because it blocks inflammation and raises HDL levels. Even for those with type 2, moderate intake of red-wine, decreases cardio-metabolic risk and increases the ability to process glucose. Though, beware… drinking more than the recommended servings raises the risk of chronic inflammation of the pancreas and reduced ability to secrete insulin, potentially resulting in Type 2.
Still, I am here to report that I successfully went from prediabetes to a normal blood sugar while drinking alcohol in small amounts, and sometimes double the recommended number of glasses per day. Having cut back on about 80% of the carbs and sugar in my diet, I was determined to hang onto something that I enjoyed consuming! I pretty much stick to dry red wine, and I believe if you wean yourself off sugar in general, you’ll be fine with a dry red or white and you’ll completely lose your taste for sweet (e.g. dessert) wines and syrupy or fruity cocktails anyway (plus you won’t miss their hangovers). Once you are eating low-carb regularly, you’ll be comfortable trading in some of those uneaten carbs for a hearty, 15-20 carb beer here and there, putting yourself only at risk of getting buzzed enough to slide from a pint glass of stout into a basket of hot fries, thinking, eh, what the heck?
And drinking before eating is still key. Not only does alcohol itself convert directly to fat, but when it’s more quickly absorbed on an empty stomach, the liver prioritizes breaking it down rather than burning fat, all of which piles on to the visceral fat that keeps us in the prediabetes zone. For those with type 2, drinking on an empty stomach may–counterintuitively—lower glucose levels and cause hypoglycemia. So perhaps you’ll join me in only drinking on at least a half full belly? Over the long run, those social hours will be happier than advertised, and not just because of the price of our drinks.