The Worst Drinking Habits for Your Blood Sugar, Say Dietitians
We hear about blood sugar a lot, but what exactly is it? And how is it affected by the foods and drinks we consume on a daily basis? Your blood sugar is essentially the level of sugar (glucose) found in your bloodstream, and it's important to have a certain amount in your blood at all times because your blood carries this source of energy to other areas of your body.
It's when the amount of sugar in your blood increases or decreases too much that it becomes an issue. If it's too low, which is what happens for people with type 1 diabetes, you may experience extreme fatigue, stress, anxiety, and an irregular heartbeat.
If it's too high, which is what happens for people with type 2 diabetes, you may experience extreme thirst and urination. If your blood sugar is too high over long periods of time, it may result in serious illness.
That being said, how can we work to better manage our blood glucose levels? While food and drinks aren't the only answer, choosing the right ones can help. To learn more, we asked a few expert dietitians to weigh in on the worst drinking habits you should avoid in order to better manage your blood sugar. Then, for more drinking tips, here's The #1 Best Juice to Drink Every Day, Says Science.
Drinking too much alcohol
Drinking alcohol in moderation is oftentimes harmless, but those with blood sugar troubles should watch their consumption, especially those with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). The American Diabetes Association also warns that many diabetes medications interfere with alcohol and can result in blood sugar levels that are too low.
"It is all too easy to let one drink turn into multiple drinks, so watch your portions during happy hour," says Laura Burak, MS, RD, author of Slimdown with Smoothies, founder of Laura Burak Nutrition, and a member of our medical expert board. "Drinking excess alcohol can even further lower your blood sugar and set you up for overeating, sleep disruption, dehydration and all the other negative effects that drinking can cause. Have enough to eat before you start drinking and name your drinks, as in 'I am having 2 drinks only tonight,' so you have a plan and can still make cocktails a healthy part of your life."
Not drinking enough water
It may be surprising to some, but the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists dehydration as one of the causes of blood sugar spikes. This is just one of the many reasons why drinking enough water on a daily basis is important.
"It's a great way to stay hydrated, and hydration plays a major role in regulating your blood sugar," says Courtney D'Angelo, MS, RD, author at Go Wellness. "Furthermore, water can help dilute your blood, which can lower your blood sugar levels. If you have a hard time drinking plenty of water, try adding an 8-ounce glass of water after you drink a beverage that contains high sugar or caffeine."
Drinking too many sugary drinks
Sugar-sweetened beverages are unhealthy in many ways, especially when it comes to managing blood sugar. For example, according to an analysis published in Diabetes Care, people who consume at least one or two servings of soda a day had a 26% higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes.
"Sodas, teas, juices, sports drinks, or specialty coffees are loaded with sugar and can wreak havoc on your body in so many ways," says D'Angelo. "When you drink a sugar-sweetened drink, it is absorbed into your bloodstream very quickly, which can cause a spike in blood glucose levels. Try cutting back on these drinks and replace them with water."
Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach
If you know you're going to be drinking alcohol one night, it's important to eat beforehand so you can better absorb what you drink.
"The biggest offender when it comes to alcohol wreaking havoc on your blood sugar is drinking on empty, as in having some drinks on an empty stomach," says Burak. "Without some food in your belly to absorb the alcohol, your blood sugar will drop even faster and you will likely encounter a late-night food binge because drinking on empty makes you especially drunker (and hungrier), and you can expect a worse hangover the next day."
Burak recommends having a "protein-rich meal or snack before cocktail hour starts to stabilize your blood sugar. Think cheese or hard-boiled eggs with crackers and fruit, or a turkey or peanut butter sandwich."
Too many caffeinated beverages
Drinking a cup of black coffee or a coffee with a small amount of cream can actually bring some health benefits, but it's the fancy coffee drinks and other forms of caffeine that may affect your blood sugar.
"Energy drinks or drinks that contain caffeine may give you a jolt of energy, but it often comes in the form of sugar, caffeine, and other additives," says D'Angelo. "Consuming these ingredients can cause heart rate disturbances, disrupt sleep, increase heart rate, and increase blood pressure. Beverages like these can also contain an unhealthy amount of sugar, which can cause blood sugar to spike and leave your body wanting more after you drink one."