Today we extend a belated happy birthday to our own Cait Patterson, who celebrated her long-awaited 21st birthday late last week!
Of course, that milestone birthday is marked by the advent of legally drinking alcohol — which for those of us with diabetes can be a big challenge in terms of keeping blood sugars in check. We’ve reported on initiatives like Drinking With Diabetes before, and our Ask D’Mine columnist Wil Dubois has put on his “Uncle Wil” hat to tell it like it is on drinking with diabetes.
But we also wanted to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak: how will Cait face a world full of alcohol?
Special to the ‘Mine by Cait Patterson
The date of June 26, 2014, was a day for the history books. I turned 21, and you would think between that and me living so close to DC, Congress would have raised the legal drinking age by now. But no, I’ve kept my excitement contained and paced myself. And if you don’t believe me, my first drink as legal 21-year-old was Starbucks coffee.
Honestly, drinking alcohol wasn’t really the highlight of my 21st birthday. I’m still excited, but more about the pretty drink glasses and the creative “adult” names for the drinks that make it more fun. I’ve been waiting for a long time to go to restaurants and order something fancy like a screwdriver, a redheaded slut or an Irish car bomb — for the sole reason that those names are just more fun to say than “water” or “Diet Coke.”
Maybe it’s because I’m a health major, or because I have the alcohol tolerance of a fly, or maybe it’s my interest in avoiding gluten in beer and malt liquor… but I have no desire to try to drink a year’s worth of alcohol in one sitting just because it’s my birthday.
My pancreas probably appreciated that, too!
Just by looking at where alcohol comes from, it’s no surprise that blood sugars go through the roof after you have even half a drink. Beer comes from wheat, hard cider comes from apples, vodka from potatoes; wine is grapes…of course, that all translates to me as: HIGH CARB EVERYTHING. Mix in a little fruit juice for cocktails, and I’d probably be saying goodbye to a below 7.0 A1C.
Being even more of a buzz kill: I consulted my nutritionist a few days before my birthday to get some real info on how wine and other drinks would fit into my diet. I wanted to know how adding in a glass of wine with dinner would affect my calorie intake and blood sugars.
The response was, “Well, to go from never drinking to drinking wine once a day adds about 150 calories per day, which can add an extra 15 pounds in a year.”
Um, no thanks. I avoided the “freshmen 15” in college; I don’t need the 21 pounds for 21 years.
So, my solution is to find lower-calorie drink options. Like the conscientious student that (I think) I am, I’ve been doing research on healthy, low-carb, gluten-free alcoholic drinks for months now. The main theme is moderation and awareness of what is going into the cup. Being conscious of ingredients — like whether it’s diet or regular soda, whole fruit versus not-so-pure juices — really helps in making healthier choices.
Another important thing I’m realizing is that I value good meter readings more than a fun night out. So no, I won’t be a keg-stand-Katie, but I also don’t want a blood alcohol content level as high as my A1C.
One article that I found on this topic is, “60 Healthier Drinks for Boozing,” and it gives some good tips on how to cut calories from some of the most popular drinks. The writer Kelly Fitzpatrick offers tips like: “use honey as a syrup to gain the antioxidants benefits” and “limit yourself to one shot (1.5 oz) per drink.”
The bottom line is that I will be adjusting these cocktails and drinks to better fit my diabetes and celiac. For example, I’ll drink rum and Coke (Zero). If I want to have the experience of holding a beer bottle, I go for cider. And liquor drinks will be mixed with diet fruit juices and sugar-free syrups.
Pancreas-friendly (PF) drinks, I will call them!
I’m excited to start this new chapter in my life… (see also: diabetes life). No, it wasn’t what I pictured before I was diagnosed at 18, but I’m happy with the way things have turned out. New experiences (and being able to remember them) might include celebrating at a local winery and doing a wine sampling, and I’m looking forward to being able to enjoy a long life full of trying new things.
One of the most important lessons my chronic conditions have taught me is that one day doesn’t make or break a healthy life. I’m lucky to be able to see that I’ll have plenty of time to be 21. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Or, in the spirit of my 21st, it’s a sip, not a chug.
Welcome to the 21 and Older Club, Cait, and way to go on doing your research ahead of time. Thanks for being aware and responsible when confronting alcohol with diabetes and celiac. Cheers to you, Cait!