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This article is by no means an endorsement for consuming alcohol. Every person with diabetes should check with his or her healthcare professional about the use of alcohol. In addition to the effects of alcohol on diabetes control, including potentially causing hypoglycemia, there are possible interactions with other medications.
"I like beer, it makes me a jolly good fellow," goes an old Tommy T tune.
Many people with diabetes agree.
"Life's too short not to drink it!" said one woman with type 1 diabetes.
Although some will drink as they please and "suffer the health consequences," most people with diabetes-if they drink-drink responsibly, according to their responses on the Insulin-Pumpers Web site.
Low-Carb Beer-The Latest Lower-Carb Phenomenon
We're used to the low-calorie "light" beers that entered the marketplace over 25 years ago. They were lower in calories than mainstream beers, and they were also inadvertently lower in carbohydrates.
The latest group of "light" beers, however, is confusing to consumers. Light beer today can mean many things. It might be lighter in color, calories, carbs or body.
Labels on alcoholic beverages are not required to provide nutritional information unless they make nutritional claims, such as being a low-carb product.
Most U.S. breweries do not disclose alcohol content on their labels, which can be critical to those with diabetes.
In Arkansas, Budweiser Light discloses its alcohol content on the bottle but not the can.
In Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Utah, beer can contain only 3.2 percent of alcohol by weight, while the rest of the country goes by 5 percent by volume.
Interestingly, 3.2 percent alcohol by weigh equals about 4 percent alcohol by volume.
A Little Detective Work May Be in Order
Anheuser-Busch, Coors, and Miller - the big three breweries - make multiple brands each. Every brand can have different standards even though it's produced by the same company.
On the accompanying chart, compare the brand standards for Miller High Life with its sister beer, Miller's Milwaukee's Best Brands. Notice that Miller High Life Light has 7 grams of carbs, while Milwaukee's Best Light has only 3.
With diligent sleuthing of labels and Web sites, or by calling consumer service numbers listed on the product labels, you can unearth nutrition facts. But this information is not easily accessible to the average consumer.
You can also check the U.S Food and Drug Administration's Website at www.fda.gov for suggested changes to nutrition facts information. These labeling requests pertain to all low-carbohydrate products and are not necessarily relevant to people with diabetes.
What's a Diabetic to Do When Trying to Choose the Right Beer?
At present, people with diabetes have little information for making wise choices of beers.
Clear content information, including alcohol content, is needed, and nutrition facts on all alcoholic beverages would be helpful.
Very low carb beers are targeted toward healthy people on Atkins-style diets. People with diabetes need to treat them with the respect they give to all alcoholic beverages, coupled with good guesswork.
While your liver is engaged in detoxifying your body from alcohol, it does not serve as a backup system for preventing and treating extremely low blood glucose. It will not kick in glucose to correct a low. The more alcohol you consume, the longer that function is out of commission. This is especially important information for individuals with diabetes who are using insulin or taking oral medications such as sulfonylureas (glyburide, glipizide, Amaryl), Prandin, or Starlix, which increase insulin production and can cause hypoglycemia. Any alcohol intake should include added carbohydrate intake to help prevent hypoglycemia.
If you are drinking alcohol, be sure to check your blood glucose often to see how the alcohol affects you.
And remember that alcohol has 7 calories per gram, close to the high calorie count of fats, which have 9 calories per gram. You alcohol intake needs to be included in the over-all calorie count of your meal plan.
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Lower-Carb Beer Guidelines
If nutritional information appears on the label, it's probably a lower-carb beer.
If there is no nutritional information provided, it may be lower in calories (and carbs) or it may be a regular beer.
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If You Do Consume Alcohol . . .
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But How Do They Taste?
Many people with diabetes on the Insulin-Pumper's e-mail forums said that if they drink, they prefer their favorite mainstream beers.
Some say that the removal of carbohydrates does affect the taste.
The anonymous taste testers who participated in this review represent a variety of consumers, not all of whom have diabetes.
The testers are beer aficionados who tasted beers for the March 2004 issue of the magazine All About Beer.
Michelob Ultra. Very pale, nearly clear. Almost no head. Hardly any smell. No taste up front, sweeter aftertaste at top and back on mouth. Thin and fizzy. A chemical, rather than natural smell and taste. Not great.
Miller Lite. Light yellow, nearly clear. Generic, beery, tastes domestic. Adjunct cereal-flavored aroma. Typical everyday beer flavor. Tastes like your domestic light. Very fizzy, low hops, thin. Aroma very much like mildewed laundry - I am not joking! Tastes like club soda with a bit of barley. Pale yellow, smells like regular beer, no head. Tastes like cereal, sweetish. Bubbles in the mouth. Tingly.
Rolling Rock's Green Light. Golden straw color. Light spice smell, soapy. Heavier flavored and more body than others; spicy and hearty, cilantro and coriander. Sweetish finish, no aftertaste.
Rhinebecker Extra. Dark golden color, more gold than straw, good hop aroma, and sweet malt. Nice body bitterness on top palette, most drinkable. Hoppy bitter finish.
Reprinted with permission from All About Beer magazine, March 2004
Diabetes Health is the essential resource for people living with diabetes- both newly diagnosed and experienced as well as the professionals who care for them. We provide balanced expert news and information on living healthfully with diabetes. Each issue includes cutting-edge editorial coverage of new products, research, treatment options, and meaningful lifestyle issues.