In case you didn't know, today (May 25) is National Wine Day. Yes, it's true. There really is a day set aside on the American calendar devoted to saluting the fruit of the vine. Not to be confused with National Whine Day in December, or the other one known as "National Drink Wine Day" earlier in the year. According to the experts at Holidays Calendar, “The purpose of this day is very simple. It’s a day to buy wine, appreciate wine, and enjoy the history of wine. After all, this alcoholic beverage has been a part of human civilization for at least 8,000 years.”

Since we often get questions pretty focused on drinking alcohol with diabetes, this weekend's Ask D'Mine column by our own Wil Dubois uncorks that topic and pours a little insight into our "glass of knowledge" for you thirsty friends in the Diabetes Community.

 

Toasting to Wine-Drinking and Diabetes

History buffs may appreciate that diabetes and wine have both existed for thousands of years, with the first historic mentions of wine happening in 4100 B.C., and diabetes getting its first references in 1500 B.C. But what’s the relationship between vino and diabetes and how does drinking wine impact our blood sugars?

If you're wondering whether people with diabetes (PWDs) like us can really afford to toast this holiday, the answer is quite simple: You bet your wine cork we can.

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Of course, there are some things you need to know first. When it comes to sugar content, not all wines are created equal. There are three primary categories of wine: Red, Rosé, and White, although some experts carve out separate categories for Sparkling Wines, such as Champagne, and Dessert Wines—which are sometimes known as “fortified” wines because they are often spiked with spirits. Personally, I’m happy just lumping all the liquids that are the same color together into the same category. I also prefer wine glasses with stems on them to the stemless ones, but to each his own. That’s the great thing about the Universe of Wine. There’s something for everyone.

But I digress.

The most important thing you need to know before embarking on a new career as a diabetic wino… oh, sorry, I meant to say a wino with diabetes… is that within the categories—no matter how many you choose—there’s a wide variety of sugar content. In the language of the Sommelier, wines are classified as Dry, Semi-Sweet, or Sweet. As you might guess, a sweet wine has more sugar than a semi-sweet, which has more sugar than a dry.

So, obviously, for blood sugar control, the drier the wine, regardless of its color, the better. But what if you don’t like the taste of dry wine? Are you corkscrewed? Actually, no. While a dry red wine can have as few as zero carbs—the same glycemic impact as a bottle of Fiji water—even the sweetest of sweet wines, like, say, vintage Port, has a lot less sugar than you’d expect, topping out at about 10 carbs per glass, way less than most glasses of beer. And Port is one of those desert wines. A garden variety sweet wine has about four carbs per glass, a pretty easy amount of sugar to manage, and waaaaaay fewer carbs than the grapes it was made from. So, really, this is the healthiest way to get a serving of fruit for people with diabetes. But, as you’ll see in a moment, carbs are not the whole story. 

First I need to address the serving size fallacy: These “glasses” nutrition folks talk about are five-ounce servings, a size never found in wine’s natural ecosystem. Most restaurants and bars serve wine in either six or nine-ounce glasses. Or more correctly, I should say serve six or nine ounces of liquid in the glass. Unlike beer, a wine glass is never filled to the brim. Except in my house. On National Wine Day.

Now, bizarrely, while wine has little or no carbs, it does have a healthy calorie count (from the alcohol), anywhere between 100 and 300 calories in a glass. So if you drink a lot of wine you can put on a lot of weight, and that, of course, will affect your diabetes. And speaking of calories, there’s quite a bit of research showing that alcohol increases appetite, so you have to be alert to increased eating with your drinking. 

On the bright side, all these calories can be offset by taking a walking tour of a winery. 

What about the research that shows that drinking red wine is good for you? One two-year study that compared mineral water, white wine, and red wine showed that the red wine drinkers had improved HDL ("good cholesterol") and modest improvements in glucose metabolism while suffering no negative effect on blood pressure or liver functions. And quite a bit of research has gone into the heart health benefits of resveratrol, the antioxidant found in red wines. Given all of that, red wine should really be prescribed by our endos as part of our treatment plan, don’t you think? Of course, the pro-wine findings are not without controversy, especially from the beer drinkers.

Now, it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: All this science looked at drinking in moderation. Too much of any kind of alcohol poisons the body in general, and holds a special and unique risk for people with diabetes. Here’s the thing: Alcohol affects how the liver retains and releases glucose, and high amounts of alcohol greatly increases the risk of hypoglycemia, increases the risk of more severe hypoglycemia, and it does it hours after drinking—like when the binger is sleeping it off.

So there you have it. Red or White. Dry or Sweet. There’s no harm in raising a glass to toast National Wine Day.

Raising a full case? 

Now that would be a problem.

 

{ Got your own questions? Email us at AskDMine@diabetesmine.com }

 

This is not a medical advice column. We are PWDs freely and openly sharing the wisdom of our collected experiences — our been-there-done-that knowledge from the trenches. But we are not MDs, RNs, NPs, PAs, CDEs (or partridges in pear trees). Bottom line: you still need the advice and care of a licensed medical professional.