Happy National Diabetes Month!
Each November communities across the country observe National Diabetes Month to bring awareness to diabetes and its impact on millions of Canadians, both men and women, children and adults. National Diabetes Month helps bring light on the lives of those living with Type 1, Type 2 and Gestational Diabetes. The theme for this years World Diabetes Day (November 14th) is actually “Women and Diabetes- our right to a healthy future” The campaign is promoting the importance of affordable and equitable access for all women at risk for or living with diabetes to the essential diabetes medications, self-management education and information they require to achieve optimal diabetes outcomes and strengthen their capacity to prevent type 2 diabetes.
Why women and diabetes?
- All women with diabetes require affordable and equitable access to care and education to better manage their diabetes and improve their health outcomes.
- Pregnant women require improved access to screening, care, and education to achieve positive health outcomes for mother and child
- Women and girls are key agents in the adoption of healthy lifestyles to improve the health and well-being of future generations.
Okaay, so whether you’re a woman or a male, living with diabetes can be challenging to manage every day and you are the most important member of your diabetes care team, but you don’t have to manage your diabetes alone. Seek support from health care professionals, your family, friends, and community to help manage your diabetes. As a certified diabetes educator and dietitian, I’m here for you.
This past June at the Dietitians of Canada conference, I spoke with members of the Beer Canada team and I realized we had a mutual interest to provide new, helpful resources to Canadians living with diabetes. Now, you might not have ever heard of Beer Canada before, and neither did I at the time, but they have actually been around since 1943! They founded to address demands for supplies to Canadian and allied troops during World War II, since, they have seen many faces and phases and today they are the voice of Canadian brewers and the industry.
If you want to learn more about Beer Canada check them out here, you will find everything from the history of beer in Canada to recipes and pairing advice. If you’re looking for a healthy balance of lifestyle and beer drinking, check out their expert advice here from fellow dietitian Carol Harrison.
Okay, so on to what I actually did with Beer Canada
For the past several months, I have worked with Beer Canada on the creation of a new resource which I would like to share with you. “Your Guide to Diabetes and Beer” was developed as a collaboration between Diabetes Canada and Beer Canada, to assist dietitians, like me, who often answer client questions about how to live with diabetes and still consume alcohol/beer. It was also developed for you, the person living with diabetes who loves beer, to better help you continue to live your normal life while safely consuming that beer you love.
The idea for the resource originated from feedback gathered at the 2016 DC Conference. Many of us educators have spent entire appointments devoted to discussing beer and alcohol consumption with clients. Unfortunately, there have not been many user-friendly guides for clients to take home with them – until now that is. The guidelines around drinking alcohol, specifically beer is probably one of the most common questions right after “can I still eat bananas?” I think because everyone knows there is carbohydrate (sugar) in beer, they think the guidelines for alcohol change for that and it can be confusing sifting through all the information on the internet!
So essentially, a draft text was compiled by Beer Canada in July 2017 and was reviewed with suggestions by Diabetes Canada, Carol Harrison, RD and myself. As the co-chair of The Diabetes, Obesity and Cardiovascular Network of Dietitians of Canada I was also able to consult with my colleagues to review content and provide their expert opinion in the area as well.
So aside from dietitians looking for this information, why was this resource a priority?
As mentioned, most dietitians and diabetes educators noted many of their clients asking questions about alcohol consumption along with how to drink beer and other alcoholic beverages safely while living with diabetes. Many health professionals were feeling ill-equipped to counsel on this and were looking for something to send home to the client for future reference, ideally a resource that wasn’t too long or too wordy. The thing is, we know some of the information is missed in appointments, its overwhelming and can be very stressful for people, so it’s important to have something on paper that can be sent home and reviewed by the individual later on. This creates the opportunity to ask questions about it later as well.
In 2015 3.4 million Canadians were living with diabetes, that number is estimated to increase to 5 million in 2025 which is only 8 years away. Diabetes isn’t going away anytime soon, and we know Canadians love to drink beer, so we need to look to educate people on how to manage their diabetes while continuing to live their best and safest lifestyle.
The “Your Guide to Diabetes and Beer” resource covers the most important points when it comes to safety while consuming alcohol and living with diabetes. The purpose is to reinforce that people living with diabetes can fit alcohol, including beer into their healthy lifestyle. We aren’t looking to overhaul your lifestyle or diet when you’re diagnosed with diabetes, we’re not looking for perfection… what we’re looking for is for you to continue to live your best life, even if that includes beer or alcohol in moderation while continuing to managing your blood sugar. I follow a philosophy of all foods fit, and I always say you can eat (or drink) anything… just not everything, so choose wisely.
So, what does drinking in moderation look like?
Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines state:
For Women: No more than 2 standard drinks daily no more than 10 per week.
For Men: No more than 3 standard drinks per day for men or more than 15 per week.
What are our concerns for people living with diabetes?
Our concerns are actually the opposite of what many people think. Often, I think people initially think we will 1) tell them it is totally unsafe to drink alcohol while living with diabetes and then 2) Beer is full of carbohydrate (sugar) so they can expect blood sugar to increase drastically. These are the misconceptions we wanted to clear up with the development of this resource!
The thing is, while small to moderate amounts of alcohol may cause blood sugar to rise slightly, excess alcohol can actually decrease your blood sugar level up to 24 hours after drinking, causing low blood sugar. You see, signs of low blood sugar can include sweating, slurred speech, weakness, increased heart rate and nausea, unfortunately, these symptoms closely resemble what someone might feel like when they have had too much to drink or are hungover. That’s why we outlined 10 ways to guard you against low blood sugar in the resource. The goal: to keep you safe.
- For the best blood sugar control possible, get personalized advice from your diabetes educator/healthcare provider. (Like me!)
- Take your medications as directed.
- Eat carbohydrate-rich food before and while you drink. Eat extra if you are active.
- Drink slowly. Alternate one beer with one non-alcoholic drink.
- Check your blood glucose often. Keep your meter with you.
- Be ready to treat low blood glucose. Carry fast-acting carbohydrates such as glucose fast-acting tablets, regular soda or hard candies. Note: glucagon does not work if you are drinking.
- Educate friends on the signs of low blood sugar, how to treat it and when to call an ambulance if ever needed.
- Wear diabetes identification such as a MedicAlert® bracelet.
- Check your blood glucose before bedtime and during the night. If it’s lower than normal, eat a carbohydrate-rich snack.
- Wake up at your regular time. A delay in meds, insulin or food can mean trouble: high blood glucose, ketones, diabetic ketoacidosis.
There is a lot to consider when drinking while living with diabetes, which is why it’s always recommended to consult with your healthcare provider or diabetes educator to receive personalized advice based on your lifestyle and medication regimen.
The “Your Guide to Diabetes and Beer” resource is intended to be shared amongst everyone from the wife whose husband is living with diabetes to the family physician who is the initial contact for someone initially being diagnosed. This resource is for those who are newly diagnosed and for those who have been living with diabetes for years.
If someone you know and love is living with diabetes, share this resource with them, you never know who might need a refresher!
To download your own copy click here.