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Ask the Dietitian: What Are Some Blood Sugar-Friendly Mocktails and Cocktails?

Diet and Nutrition

April 26, 2023

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by Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

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Medically Reviewed by:

Kim Chin, RD

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by Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

•••••

Medically Reviewed by:

Kim Chin, RD

•••••

Dietitian Jillian Kubala shares a roundup of alcoholic and nonalcoholic drink recipes that won’t spike your blood sugar.

When you’re living with diabetes, paying a little extra attention to your food and drink choices — including alcoholic beverages — is vital to maintain optimal blood sugar levels.

The good news is that most people with diabetes can safely enjoy their favorite cocktails and mocktails. But some alcoholic beverages are loaded with calories and added sugar, which can take a toll on your blood sugar regulation and other aspects of your health.

Fortunately, there are plenty of blood sugar-friendly cocktails and mocktails to choose from.

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How alcohol affects people with diabetes

While the sugar found in many cocktails and mocktails can increase blood glucose levels, alcohol itself tends to lower blood sugar. This can be an issue for those taking diabetes medications like insulin and sulfonylureas.

Drinking too much alcohol while taking blood sugar-lowering medications can be dangerous because it can lead to low blood sugar levels, also known as hypoglycemia. It’s also important to note that symptoms of low blood sugar levels and being drunk — like slurred speech and difficulty walking — are similar. This means that someone with poor blood sugar control who frequently experiences low blood sugar levels should be especially careful with their alcohol intake.

Your doctor can help you create a medication plan for when you’re drinking alcohol and give you recommendations on how to consume alcohol while maintaining safe blood sugar levels.

Also, although there are no one-size-fits-all guidelines when it comes to drinking with diabetes, most experts recommend that people with diabetes eat a snack or meal while drinking alcohol and avoid taking in large amounts of alcohol. This can help you maintain safe blood sugar levels and protect you from developing hypoglycemia.

Lastly, it’s crucial for everyone — both people with and without diabetes — to always practice safe alcohol consumption. Although enjoying an occasional drink or a nightly glass of wine won’t significantly harm your health, heavy drinking and binge drinking can take a toll on both your physical and mental health and increase your risk for many conditions, like liver disease and heart disease.

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Cocktail recipes for people with diabetes

If you’re looking for cocktail recipes that are low in added sugar and calories but still taste amazing, I’ve got you covered. Here are a few sweet and savory cocktails that won’t spike your blood sugar.

‘Skinny’ paloma

This citrusy cocktail is a perfect choice if you’re craving a light, flavorful drink to enjoy on a warm summer day. It combines tequila with fresh grapefruit juice, lime juice, and sugar-free grapefruit-flavored sparkling water for the perfect touch of fizz.

Unlike most paloma recipes that contain simple syrup or sugary soda, this one doesn’t contain any added sugar, which makes it a good choice for people with diabetes.

Another benefit? Fresh grapefruit is packed with vitamin C, a nutrient that’s essential for immune function, skin health, and more. Just 3/4 of a cup of grapefruit juice provides 78% of your daily vitamin C needs.

A skinny paloma made with 4 ounces of fresh grapefruit juice and 1.5 ounces of tequila will provide roughly 147.5 calories and 11.5 grams of carbs.

Recipe: Skinny Paloma by Eating Bird Food

Sugar-free moscow mule

Moscow mules are one of my favorite drinks. I love adding fresh grated ginger to my moscow mule recipes for a little extra kick. But keep in mind that most moscow mule recipes are packed with added sugar from ginger beer, which can contain as much as 34 grams or 8.5 teaspoons of added sugar per 355 ml bottle.

To ditch the sugar without sacrificing the gingery flavor, I like to make my moscow mules with soda water, vodka, lime juice, fresh grated ginger, and a few drops of monk fruit to add a hint of sweetness.

A sugar-free moscow mule made with soda water, 1.5 ounces of vodka, one ounce of lime juice, and a teaspoon of freshly grated ginger contains 104 calories and 2.5 grams of carbs.

Recipe: Sugar Free Moscow Mule

Bloody mary

If you prefer savory cocktails, then this keto bloody mary recipe might hit the spot. Most bloody mary cocktails are low in carbs because they don’t contain added sugar and are made with a base of tomato juice, which is a low-carb fruit.

Plus, you can pack your bloody mary with crunchy, fiber-rich veggies like celery and cucumbers for some extra nutritional benefits.

A bloody mary made with an ounce of vodka, 4 ounces of tomato juice, and additional add-ons like hot sauce and worcestershire sauce will provide around 113 calories and 10 grams of carbs.

Recipe: Bloody Mary by Healthy Food Happy Life

Citrusy margarita

When I make margaritas, I don’t use simple syrup, which packs about 9 grams of sugar per tablespoon. Instead, I love to use the juice of limes, oranges, and grapefruits to make a citrusy and subtly sweet margarita free from added sugar. This recipe can easily be made into a mocktail by swapping the tequila for club soda or sparkling water.

When you’re out at a restaurant or bar, you can ask the bartender or waitstaff to hold off on the simple syrup in your margarita and instead add extra lime juice and a squeeze of orange. This can help reduce the drink’s impact on your blood sugar levels.

A margarita made with a shot of tequila, one ounce grapefruit juice, one ounce orange juice, and a half ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice provides 127 calories and 7 grams of carbs.

Recipe: Three Citrus Margarita from Creatively Home

Alcohol-free drink options

If alcohol isn’t your thing or you’re trying to cut back for health reasons, you don’t have to feel left out when friends or family are enjoying cocktails. These delicious mocktails can be enjoyed with meals, at parties, and any other time you’d like to sip on something fancy.

Raspberry mocktail

When I’m in the mood for something refreshing and fruity, I muddle some berries and mint in a glass and then top it with sparkling water. The berries pair well with the mint and give a hint of sweetness to the drink. I love raspberries, but you can use whatever berries or fruit you have on hand. Both fresh and frozen fruit works well.

If you need a little extra flavor, you can add a few drops of liquid monk fruit sweetener. Depending on the amount of fruit you use, this mocktail contains only a small amount of calories and carbs. For example, a 1/4 cup of raspberries contains 16 calories and 3.5 grams of carbs.

Recipe: Raspberry Mocktail by The Mindful Mocktail

Sparkling cherry mocktail

If you’re looking for a mocktail to help you wind down before bed, consider adding some tart cherry juice to your glass. Cherries and tart cherry juice offer a variety of health benefits and may even help you get more restful sleep.

Drinking tart cherry juice may be a natural way to help improve sleep in people with sleep issues. Cherries contain melatonin, a substance that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Plus, cherries are packed with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds that help promote overall health.

When choosing a cherry juice to use for mocktails and other beverages, be sure to purchase unsweetened cherry juice with no added sugar. You can make a quick mocktail by combining a bit of tart cherry juice with unsweetened cherry-lime sparkling water and adding some frozen cherries to keep your drink cold. Two ounces of tart cherry juice contains about 35 calories and 8.25 grams of carbs.

Recipe: Sparkling Cherry Lime Mocktail from A Life Delicious

Mocktail michelada

A michelada is similar to a bloody mary, but they’re usually made with beer, tomato paste, and hot sauce, and garnished with lime. To make a michelada alcohol-free, simply swap the beer for sparkling water or a low-sugar kombucha. Unlike most mocktails, micheladas are savory, so they make a good choice for people who prefer a salty mocktail.

Like Bloody Marys, micheladas are made with tomatoes, which are a good source of the carotenoid lycopene. Lycopene has powerful antioxidant properties and consuming more lycopene-rich foods, like tomato paste, may help lower your risk of health conditions like heart disease.

A michelada made with 1.5 tablespoons of tomato paste, one ounce of lime juice, and sparkling water contains under 30 calories and 8 grams of carbs.

Recipe: Mocktail Michelada from Ohio Liquor

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Easy ways to reduce the calorie and carb content of cocktails

When you’re making cocktails at home, it’s easy to control what’s added to your drink. But when you’re out at a restaurant or bar, it can be difficult to find drinks that are low in sugar and overall carbs. This is because many popular drinks are high in sugar thanks to additives like simple syrup, sweetened liquors, grenadine, and soda.

Here’s a few simple ways to lighten up your favorite cocktails and mocktails when out at a restaurant or bar:

  • Ask for club soda in your drink instead of regular soda.
  • Tell the bartender to hold the simple syrup.
  • Order drinks with a “splash” of juice, like lime or orange juice, instead of simple syrup.
  • Limit or avoid pre-sweetened liquors like Kahlua, which can pack nearly 30 grams of sugar or 7.5 teaspoons per serving.
  • When possible, limit or avoid premixed frozen cocktails. Drinks like frozen piña coladas and daiquiris are usually loaded with added sugar and overall calories.

While you’re enjoying your cocktail, make sure to hydrate with water in between drinks and consider having a balanced protein and fiber-rich snack or meal to help stabilize your blood sugar levels.

The takeaway

When you’re living with diabetes, you don’t have to completely give up your favorite foods and drinks, including your favorite cocktails.

There are plenty of ways to reduce the sugar and calorie content of both mocktails and cocktails. In addition to limiting your overall alcohol consumption, swapping sweetened sodas for sparkling water, using a squeeze of fresh fruit juice instead of simple syrup, and limiting or avoiding pre-sweetened cocktails can help you maintain safe and healthy blood sugar levels.  

Medically reviewed on April 26, 2023

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About the author

Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

Jillian Kubala is a registered dietitian based in Westhampton, NY. Jillian holds a master’s degree in nutrition from Stony Brook University School of Medicine as well as an undergraduate degree in nutrition science. She runs a private practice based on the east end of Long Island, NY, where she helps her clients achieve optimal wellness through nutrition and lifestyle changes.

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