Summer has arrived and for many this means extended holidays and
travel, time off work or study, and spending quality time with
family and friends. This time of year for many involves
celebrating, unwinding and relaxing, at functions and events,
holiday destinations, and at home in front of the cricket.
This season marks a period where alcohol consumption increases
and beer, despite a reduction in overall consumption over the
years, is on par with wine as the most popular way to consume
alcohol in Australia.
Beer has changed a lot over the years, driven by market forces
to appeal to new generations of beer drinkers who are more health
conscious, including females. These days selecting the best beer
for your health (or least-worse beer depending on how you see it)
has become as difficult as selecting the best yoghurt with many
brands offering an array of products that vary in alcohol and/or
carbohydrate content, and a promise that lighter equals better for
you. So which one is the best for people living with diabetes?
Low carb beers
A 375ml can of regular strength beer contains roughly 10g of
carbohydrates, or approximately 3g per 100ml. Low carbohydrate
beers vary between 0g-7g in a 375ml serve, equating to 0-2g per
100ml. So, if you buy the right brands you can save up to
two-thirds the carbs. Sounds amazing? While this sounds like a
substantial saving, it is worth considering that regular beer at 3g
of carbohydrate per 100ml is not terribly high in carbohydrates to
start with. In comparison, soft drink has 11g carbohydrate per
100ml. The per can saving in carbohydrate, by choosing low
carb over regular, is equal to half a slice of bread, at most.
Most people assume that lower carbs means lower energy, but this
is not the case with some low carb beers. For example, 375ml
Carlton Draught contains 581kJ (139cals) and 10.1g carbohydrate;
the 'lower carb' Carlton Dry contains 521kJ (125cal) and 7g of
carbohydrate. That's a saving of 60 kilojoules - equal to two
Sakata rice crackers. Even when you compare an 'ultra-low carb'
beer such as Pure Blonde which contains 409kJ (98cal) and 2g
carbohydrate in 375ml, the energy or kilojoule saving compared to
Carlton Draught is 172kJ - the equivalent of six Sakata rice
Furthermore, at 409kJ (98 cals) Pure Blonde Ultra-low carb is
still a kilojoule-dense beverage option. The average slice of bread
contains about 420kJ (100 cal) - so the belief that you can drink
more low carb beer without weight gain is false. Every low carb
beer drunk is equal to consuming a slice of bread in terms of
additional energy intake, which adds up quickly when
Will low carb beer be better for my blood
Alcohol can have a confusing effect on
blood glucose levels because it prevents the liver from
producing glucose while it prioritises detoxifying the blood of
alcohol. In people who take insulin and certain diabetes tablets,
the consequence of this is that
hypoglycemia (hypo) can occur after a night of drinking.
Alcohol can also make it harder to recognise the symptoms of, and
to treat, a hypo.
So although you would expect drinking a regular carb beer to
result in higher blood glucose levels than a low carb beer, due to
the effect on the liver, that is not always the case. Furthermore,
drinking alcohol can affect your judgement when looking after your
diabetes. High blood glucose levels when drinking beer will more
often than not be caused by the food consumed with the beer e.g.
chips, snacks and large portion sizes.
Alcohol does affect different people in different ways so, if in
doubt, test your blood glucose to see how alcohol affects you.
Light and reduced alcohol
Light (low alcohol) beer holds about 2.7% of alcohol (compared
with about 4.6% in a standard beer), has the same number of
kilojoules as a low-carb beer, and has a similar amount of carbs to
a standard beer. The 30% energy reduction is due to the lower
alcohol content. Drinking large amounts of alcohol can be extremely
dangerous. It can affect many different parts of the body,
including your brain, nerves, liver and pancreas. Drinking too much
alcohol can also increase your risk of developing heart disease and
some cancers. For this reason, light or reduced alcohol beer would
be the best choice healthwise - but not if you drink double the
Ciders and shandies
Ciders and shandies will increase blood glucose levels in the
short-term due to the high sugar content. A 330ml bottle of
Somersby Apple Cider contains about 30g of carbohydrate - equal to
eating two slices of bread, along with 12g of alcohol. A shandy of
the same volume, made with half-regular beer and half lemonade, is
lower in alcohol as the beer is diluted, but contains a whopping
45g of carbohydrate due to the lemonade - equal to three slices of
bread. This can be reduced by using a no-sugar mixer in a shandy.
Given both ciders and shandies contain higher levels of carbs and
alcohol, they contain nearly double the kilojoules of regular beer
and as such are not waistline-friendly.
The verdict: it depends how much you are
Moving to either low carb or light beer will result in
substantial savings in carb and energy intake only if you
are drinking a lot, which, from a health perspective, is not
recommended anyway. Light beer is the best choice due to its lower
alcohol content; however, it will only benefit you if you drink the
same number or less than if you were consuming regular strength
beers. As with other discretionary foods, like cheese and
chocolate, it makes sense to drink what you like, even if this is
the full strength, higher kilojoule option, but drink it less often
and in smaller amounts.
How much alcohol is
The Australian Guidelines recommend healthy adults should drink
no more than two standard drinks on any day to cut the lifetime
risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury. They also
recommend consuming a max of four standard drinks on a single
occasion to reduce the risk of alcohol-related injury. One standard
drink of beer is 285ml (middy or pot) of full-strength beer,
including low carb beer, or one 375ml (can) of mid-strength beer,
or a schooner of light-strength beer.
How can I cut down my beer and/or alcohol
- Build in your alcohol free days per week
- Decide on a number of beers per day - and only put this many in
- Reduce temptation - don't keep alcohol in the house
- Delay drinking until as late as possible in the day
- Do something else when you would usually be drinking, eg, go
for a walk or join a group program or class. Keeping busy will pass
the time and distract your mind
- Swap alcoholic for non-alcoholic beverages
What can I drink instead?
- Unflavoured sparkling mineral water
- Soda water - add ice and a slice of lemon or mint leaves
- Ice tea - no sugar versions
- Diet or no sugar soft drink or cordial
Where to get help?
Whether you are having issues with alcohol or other drugs, are
concerned about someone else's alcohol or other drug use, or just
have general questions about alcohol you can call
ADIS any time of the day or week for support, information,
counselling and referral to services.
National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline: 1800
You will be automatically directed to the ADIS in the state or
territory you are calling from.
Written by Kate Battocchio (APD)