Whether you're hanging with your friends or enjoying a movie night with your partner, a popular way to unwind is to sip a glass of wine. Yet if you have diabetes, you're probably wondering whether you can enjoy an after-dinner glass, too. After all, you might assume that wine is loaded with sugar, making it taboo in your diet.
Good news, though. "Wine is safe for people with diabetes," says Lisa Moskovitz, R.D., CEO of NY Nutrition Group and author of The Core 3 Healthy Eating Plan. "They can pretty much drink and eat any food a person without diabetes can eat."
That doesn't mean you can down glass after glass, though. Below, dietitians unpack the impacts of wine on your blood sugar levels and more so that if you have diabetes, you can make an informed decision about whether you can—or should—drink it.
How wine affects your blood sugar levels
Wine is primarily made from grapes and yeast. As the wine ferments, the yeasts eat the sugar from the grapes and create alcohol in the drink. That said, some wines are fermented less or have additionally sugar added for flavor purposes.
If you're sticking with red and white wines, the sugar content is surprisingly low. A typical glass of red table wine, for example, has around 1 gram of sugar per 5-ounce serving, and while white wine tends to have just slightly over a gram in the same serving, Moskovitz says. Note, though, that this is slightly higher than the sugar content of beer or a liquor like tequila or vodka (before you add any mixers). For comparison, a standard 11- or 12-ounce sweetened wine cooler can clock in at around 30 grams of sugar, which is about the same as a can of cola, Moskovitz says.
That might lead you to assume that you don't have to worry about your blood sugar when sipping red or white wine. But there's more to the story. Your blood sugar does matter but not because those wines are high in sugar or even high in carbohydrates. One glass of wine has only about five grams of carbohydrates, says Alix Turoff, M.S., RD, CDN, registered dietitian and certified personal trainer in Brooklyn, N.Y.
So what's the problem? Contrary to what you might think, consuming wine in larger quantities can put you at risk of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. If drank in excess, "your liver starts prioritizing alcohol over blood sugar," Turoff says.
Your liver, after all, is largely responsible for releasing glucose into your bloodstream when your blood sugar levels get too low. It also helps clear alcohol from your system and, with alcohol in your body, its duties shift. "Drinking alcohol can preoccupy your liver, which can lead to less glucose output and thus, low blood sugar levels," Moskovitz says.
How alcohol can negatively impacts your overall health
Blood sugar isn't your only concern when it comes to mixing diabetes with wine. Weight is another. While a five-ounce glass of wine contains about 100 to 150 calories each, and a few glasses can add up quickly. "It's hard to manage your weight if you're on a heavy liquid diet," Moskovitz says.
Additionally, you might not be eating as nutritious of foods when you're drinking. You might even eat foods that you might not otherwise eat were if not for that glass of wine. Those extra calories can add up, potentially making the number on the scale go up, Turoff says.
Even if you don't have diabetes, alcohol can be hazardous to your heart, Moskovitz says. The World Heart Federation recently declared that no amount of alcohol is good for heart health, as it may increase the risk for issues like hypertension, heart disease and strokes.
Some organizations also classify alcohol as a carcinogen. One recent study from the International Journal of Cancer found that alcohol could be a direct cause of cancer. According to Cancer Research UK, alcohol may contribute to a higher risk for seven different types of cancers, including breast, colon, mouth, liver and three types of throat cancers. "Even if you're drinking in moderation, alcohol is a toxin, which is why you have to make sure you're managing it with the rest of your health," Turoff says.
The upsides of drinking wine
That being said, though, some studies show positive associations between wine and improved health. For instance, wine contains high amounts of polyphenols, a type of antioxidant found in plants. Perhaps the most well known in wine is resveratrol, which is revered for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. "Antioxidants can fight against oxidative stress, which can improve heart health, manage blood sugar levels and boost gut health," Moskovitz says.
Note, though, that if you're not currently drinking wine, the above benefits aren't strong enough to encourage you to start. "I would never tell somebody who doesn't drink alcohol to start doing so for the health benefits," Turoff says. "You'll get more benefits by doing things like walking, meditating and eating more vegetables."
How to drink wine when you have diabetes
Want to enjoy a glass of wine? Exercise caution if you're struggling to manage or lower your blood sugar or have conditions like neuropathy and kidney issues as a result of your diabetes, Turoff says. And if you're on medications, especially those for high blood pressure, check with your doctor to make sure alcohol won't interact with those medications. Another concern? If you have a history of alcoholism, skip all alcohol, wine included, Moskovitz says.
If none of the above applies to your situation and you want to enjoy a glass or two just make sure you're sipping responsibly, Moskovitz says. According to the American Heart Association, most people should stick to no more than two drinks per day.
To help keep your blood sugar levles more stable, avoid high-sugar wine drinks and pair alcohol with a meal or a snack, Turoff says. You could even reduce the alcohol in that glass and slow your intake by turning it into a wine spritzer, filling your glass with half club soda or seltzer and half wine. Make sure, too, that you test your blood sugar level before you go to bed, as alcohol can impact your sugar levels for up to 12 hours after consumption, Turoff adds. You should aim to be somewhere between 100 and 140 mg/dL. If you're below 100 mg/dL, eat a snack to help bring it up. (For more on that, check out our guide on how to raise or lower your blood sugar if you have diabetes.)
The bottom line
Turns out, there's not a one-size-fits-all answer to whether or not you should drink wine if you have diabetes. "There are many ways to prevent and manage diabetes," Moskovitz says. "While drinking red wine may provide health-protecting benefits, only drink it if you truly enjoy it." And be sure to always enjoy any type of alcohol in moderation.