Glycemic response to beer

The glycemic response to beer, and all carbohydrates for that matter, can be worrying if you are prediabetic. Any starch that is rapidly absorbed causing a spike in blood glucose draws a corresponding spurt of insulin from the pancreas; high sugar levels damage the arterial lining.

Repeated many times a day and eventually insulin resistance sets in; sugars are not absorbed into the cells demanding an even greater amount of the hormone; it's the recipe for an early demise.

This page was last updated by Dr Bernard Preston on 18th November, 2018.

By Bernard Preston

Since I am myself possibly prediabetic, there are obviously concerns whether beer, and other foods, could be contributing to an early stroke or heart attack. Whilst not wanting to be alarmist, life is good, I have no desire to lose a foot or go blind long before my time.

It probably seems macabre, but mutilating your fingers and testing your own blood is both inexpensive, and extremely interesting. More than 50% of diabetics are walking the street not knowing they have a very serious disease that is going to cut short their lives, and make the end miserable and very painful; it's a sobering thought.

And so I have tackled the topic of the glycemic response to beer, and other starches that I consume. It's a complex subject; I won't pretend otherwise, but it has the potential to add ten good years to my life, and yours too. I think it's eminently worth the pricks my fingers are being subjected to.

I'm a blood donor; yesterday's jab by the vampire was far more intimidating but one does that for altruistic reasons.

Glycemic response to beer

The glycemic response to beer occurs because of the alcohol and malt sugar, both of which are carbohydrate which is digested in the small intestine, raising blood glucose.

It is in principle no different to a candy bar, or glass of coke. Surprisingly diet sodas are even more likely to cause you to become insulin resistant and diabetic; if you value you health, avoid artificial sweeteners.

So, we all know that alcohol certainly affects our brains; some it makes violent, and others it simply puts to sleep. It dulls the senses and makes us dangerous, to both ourselves and others, if we get behind the wheel of a car.

But we love it, and will no doubt continue to enjoy our beer and wine.

But in the context of insulin resistance, stroke and cardiovascular disease, what does our favourite tipple do to your blood sugar? Do we get a massive spike, and what's it like after two hours? I set out to find some answers. You of course will most likely react very differently, given the context of your lifestyle and the food you eat, and the state of your pancreas. I recommend you test yourself. It's not difficult.

I decided to test my glycemic response to beer exactly in the way that I normally enjoy it; a quart before dinner at night. I could have cheated and first had a glass and then the first course, and then another, and so on, but that would have changed the result drastically.

No cheating!

Plus in the evening, unlike during the day when I go out and keep physically busy after a starch of which I'm suspicious, at night I'm a couch potato; I sit down at the computer and write boring pages like this. You test yourself exactly in the way you enjoy your beer.

What do you need? A glucometer, a stabbing stick and a little card that is inserted into the device. Four pricks of the fingers and in two hours you'll know exactly where you stand regarding the glycemic index of beer, or wine for that matter.

Time (mins) Glucose (mmol/L) (mg/dl) Food

0                                4.3           78      Water + 2 gl beer

30                              5.2           94      1 gl beer

60                              6.5           116     Dinner

120                            5.6           101

Beer: 1 quart or 730ml, 26 g carbohydrate

Dinner: Fresh lima and broad beans, broccoli, one egg, 1 slice 100% wholemeal bread and butter. 15g + 5g + 0g + 15g = 35g

Total carbohydrate for the meal: 61g

If you are diabetic, this amount of starch at one sitting, with no exercise, would be disastrous; those glucose readings would be quite different. We cheat, thinking we are clever, by using a little extra of the hormone, but it just hastens the day of that stroke or heart attack, or loss of half your foot. We become more and more insulin resistant.

Simply going without that beer would halve the glycemic load; luckily I am not diabetic and I can continue to kid myself that it's not doing me much harm!

If I had succumbed to ice-cream and hot chocolate sauce after dinner, then I would be a gonna; one cup could easily add nearly 50g more carbohydrate. In fact, when my fingers have recovered, I'll have exactly the same meal, testing for the glycemic response to beer, but add a cup of my favourite dessert; that reading after two hours will be quite different I suspect, and I should add a third after three hours.

This is really just about taking responsibility for our own health, and finding out what carbs spike your blood glucose. Orange juice is my Achilles heel, and I love it, so small amounts, much diluted, and a short ten minute walk after breakfast keeps it under control.

There will be photographs to follow.

Oh, and what does that homemade braggart in the photo at the top do to my blood sugar? Beer made with honey instead of sugar is my big favourite. I've yet to test that but because the honey is completely fermented, I suspect it will be little different to an ordinary pale ale. It will be a lot more healthy with the phytochemicals found in raw, unheated honey.

Three rules of thumb have become apparent;

  1. Any carb not enjoyed in the context of a meal spikes my blood glucose; so no cookies at tea time, or a candy bar in the afternoon; not even a slice of bread. Absolutely no snacking between meals is the solution.
  2. Following a high carb meal with exercise ameliorates the effect on the blood glucose; even a short walk. A snooze after lunch means I'm in for a spike of glucose.  
  3. If I have a hearty breakfast like our eggs Hilton then I'm not hungry all day and have no need to snack; it's the satiety factor that legumes have, sometimes called the subsequent meal effect.

Gluten

Beer is made from barley and hops, and sometimes wheat. Gluten is found in both grains; since an intolerance is so common causing abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhoea in severe cases, it behooves all beer drinkers to know something of the meaning of gluten.

Then, together with the knowledge of your own glycemic response to beer, gives you complete control; knowledge is power.

  1. Bernard Preston
  2. Meaning of starch
  3. Glycemic response to beer



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