Diabetes is a pervasive health concern around the globe, characterised by either insufficient insulin production by the pancreas or an inability to utilise it properly. The WHO data points to an increase in diabetes-related deaths in recent years. People living with diabetes can experience a host of damaging effects on the blood vessels, heart, eyes, kidneys, and nerves. Fortunately, prevention and treatment of the condition are achievable with dietary modifications and physical activity.
People with diabetes can reduce the risk of further complications by making healthy dietary choices. It is crucial for those with fluctuating blood sugar levels to be mindful of their diet to ensure that their sugar levels are in check. One must consider all aspects carefully when selecting food and drinks and the quantity of consumption.
Nowadays, alcohol is often a key component of parties and other celebrations. Additionally, stress can lead people to fall prey to alcoholic drinks. While alcohol has damaging effects on even the most healthy people, those with diabetes should be specifically concerned about the effects of having even a single glass of alcoholic beverages. Given this, whiskey, a popular drink is frequently questioned over its effect on one’s blood sugar levels. Is it safe for people to consume whiskey? If not, then why? And if yes, then how much?
Please do note that this article in no way advocates the consumption of alcohol whether you are diabetic or completely healthy. But we will explore the topics leveraging research and scientific studies to get to the bottom of these questions.
Whiskey: An Overview
Whiskey, also spelled whisky, is an alcoholic beverage distilled from grains such as barley, corn, rye, or wheat. This beverage commonly ages in wooden barrels that add unique characteristics and flavours to it. This ageing process can range from a few months to years, depending on the style of whiskey produced. The time spent in the barrels also significantly affects the taste and aroma of the whiskey.
Depending on the production process, whiskey can be referred to as single malt, scotch, and/or bourbon.
Nutritional Properties of Whiskey
In terms of its nutritional value, whiskey has few significant benefits. A single 1.5-ounce serving contains only 97 calories and no carbohydrates, protein, or fat. While it does contain trace amounts of potassium, iron, zinc, and selenium, the amounts are so minimal that they are not an essential part of the overall nutritional value of whiskey.
According to USDA, one fl oz (27.8ml) beverage contains the following nutrients.
- Energy: 69.5 kCal
- Phosphorus: 1.11 mg
- Potassium: 0.556 mg
- Sodium: 0.278 mg
- Alcohol: 10 g
Effect Of Whiskey On Blood Sugar Levels
Individuals with diabetes should be aware of the effects of whiskey consumption on their blood sugar levels. When one consumes alcohol, the liver prioritises breaking down the alcohol instead of glucose. That potentially results in a drop in blood sugar levels. It is particularly true in those taking insulin or other blood sugar-lowering medications.
Many mixers typically used with whiskey, such as soda or juice, are high in added sugars, which can lead to further difficulties in controlling blood sugar. Whiskey has a zero glycemic index, but it’s essential to be mindful of daily consumption. Additionally, the GI of a whiskey-based cocktail might differ from that of whiskey alone, so be sure to consider that.
The current research on whiskey and its effect on diabetes is debatable. While some studies say it is acceptable to consume whiskey even with diabetes, others contradict it. For example, a meta-analysis shows that whiskey or other alcoholic beverage do not influence insulin sensitivity levels if taken in moderation.
A recent study revealed that consuming more than two alcoholic beverages daily, including whiskey, is associated with a heightened risk of type 2 diabetes in both men and women. It can be due to chronic inflammation, insulin resistance, and other metabolic changes caused by excessive drinking.
Despite the recent evidence connecting low and moderate alcohol consumption with a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease, numerous questions still have yet to be addressed. These concerns include the precise amount of alcohol that is safe to consume, the type of alcoholic beverage, and the age, gender, and genetic/ethnic distinctions that influence alcohol consumption.
The HealthifyMe Note
As per many experts, people with diabetes don’t have to forgo alcohol; they just need to be aware of the risks. In addition, they must take some precautions to maintain their blood glucose levels. Furthermore, people taking medication should consult their doctor to determine if whiskey is compatible with their medication.
Side Effects of Whiskey for People with Diabetes
Besides the potential impact on blood sugar levels and increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, several other side effects of whiskey consumption are of particular concern for individuals with diabetes.
Increased Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
Research has shown that heavy alcohol consumption, including whiskey, increases cardiovascular disease risk. For example, a study shows that individuals with heavy alcohol consumption have a high risk of cardiovascular disease. However, the most significant concern is determining moderate consumption. It can differ for different individuals. As per experts, only those diabetics with adequately managed blood sugar levels can have whisky in moderation.
Drinking excessive amounts of whiskey can increase weight, making it harder to regulate blood sugar levels and making one more susceptible to developing type 2 diabetes.
Consuming too much alcohol can cause liver damage, impeding the liver’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels.
Increased Risk of Hypoglycemia
It has already been stated that drinking alcohol can decrease blood sugar levels, which can be especially risky for people taking insulin or other drugs to reduce their blood sugar.
The HealthifyMe Note
The relationship between alcohol and immune function is affected by various factors such as quantity, frequency, and duration of alcohol intake. Moderate alcohol consumption may be linked to improved insulin sensitivity and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. However, what is considered ‘moderate’ is subjective and depends on the individual. To find out if whiskey is safe for you to consume based on your health, it is best to consult the registered nutritionists at HealthifyMe.
Tips to Avoid Sudden Spikes after Whiskey Consumption for Diabetics
The American Diabetes Association recommends that individuals with diabetes limit their alcohol intake and be cautious when consuming whiskey and other alcoholic beverages. To avoid excessive whiskey consumption, here are some tips:
- Choose lower-alcohol options such as light beer or wine.
- Drink slowly and with food.
- Alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.
- Keep track of how many drinks you are consuming.
- It is important to remember that drinking on an empty stomach can lead to hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. So be sure to eat before consuming alcoholic beverages.
- Do not mix alcohol with sugary juices or sugary sodas. Drinking these with alcohol can cause blood sugar to spike and then drop to dangerous levels.
- Pay attention to your blood sugar levels before, during, and after drinking alcohol.
Many people around the world drink whiskey. However, it is best to avoid whiskey or alcohol consumption to manage your health. You must be aware of the risks associated with excessive consumption if you decides to drink. Some healthy strategies are limiting alcohol intake, opting for lower-alcohol beverages, avoiding sugary drinks, drinking slowly and with food, alternating between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, and tracking your intake. Discussing dietary or lifestyle changes with a medical professional or a nutritionist is best.
The Research Sources
1. World Health Organisation (WHO)
2. The U S Department of Agriculture
3. Ilse C. Schrieks, Annelijn L.J. Heil, Henk F.J. Hendriks, Kenneth J. Mukamal, Joline W.J. Beulens; The Effect of Alcohol Consumption on Insulin Sensitivity and Glycemic Status: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Intervention Studies. Diabetes Care 1 April 2015; 38 (4): 723–732. https://doi.org/10.2337/dc14-1556
4. Baliunas DO, Taylor BJ, Irving H, Roerecke M, Patra J, Mohapatra S, Rehm J. Alcohol as a risk factor for type 2 diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetes Care. 2009 Nov;32(11):2123-32. Doi: 10.2337/dc09-0227. PMID: 19875607; PMCID: PMC2768203.
5. Alcohol Intake and the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease in Middle-Aged Japanese Men | Hiroyasu Iso, Akihiko Kitamura, Takashi Shimamoto, Tomoko Sankai, Yoshihiko Naito, Shinichi Sato, Masahiko Kiyama, Minoru Iida and Yoshio Komachi
6. Klatsky AL. Moderate drinking and reduced risk of heart disease. Alcohol Res Health. 1999;23(1):15-23. PMID: 10890794; PMCID: PMC6761693.