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Aug 1 / Caro

Zero Percent

During my childhood, my parents spent a lot of time trying to find ways that I could still enjoy the same childhood as all my friends, but without sending my blood sugars in to a spin. Sugar free hot chocolate was a feature of every snowy day that I can remember. Home made biscuits made with sweeteners that more than halved the carb content in comparison with a similar shop bought item meant that I could still enjoy a treat. Diet Coke was a blessing that made me feel normal at friends’ birthday parties.

Now, well in to adulthood (really, I’m supposed to be a grown up now?) I’m still grateful for small things, and Diet Coke is still up there in my list of things to be thankful for. Drinking alcohol as a student was tough enough on my blood glucose control, but if every vodka had been mixed with regular coke as well, it would have been the stuff of nightmares.

That may not sound like the most obvious example to pick, but here’s the truth: Alcohol is a very enjoyable part of my life.

I find that slightly difficult to admit, but yet, I’m not in the least bit ashamed. I’ve come across enough people in my adult life who think that people with diabetes shouldn’t drink any alcohol at all (usually the same ones that think we shouldn’t have any sugar either). My admission that I (when I’m not pregnant, obviously) not only drink alcohol, but do it fairly regularly, has frequently been met with horror and disapproval. The simple truth is that just as carbs need to be carefully considered and counted, so does alcohol. And much as a healthy diet for people with diabetes is the same as a healthy diet for people without, healthy and sensible drinking for people with diabetes is the same as for people without.

So let me make it plain: I don’t drink to get drunk. The other potential source of disapproval when I tell people that I drink is the reputation of Britain as a nation of binge drinkers and lager louts. Unfortunately an excessive drinking culture does exist in this country, and it’s something for which we have become notorious across the rest of Europe, if not the world. It’s also something which I don’t understand and which, if I’m honest, disgusts me more than a little bit. I’m not whiter than white – of course I’ve been drunk before. For better or worse it has become a rite of passage for many teenagers and especially university students. As an eighteen year old who was new to alcohol and didn’t have any idea about my limits, I obviously made mistakes. They were mistakes that I paid dearly for, not only with an unpleasant hangover but also with volatile and generally crashing blood sugars. Over time I’ve discovered not only how much I can drink without feeling ill, but also exactly how to manage my blood sugars when alcohol is a factor.

These days I simply enjoy alcohol as a pleasure. Wine with food. Beer in a pub garden on a summer afternoon. A cocktail or two for friends’ birthdays and the odd glass of Champagne at celebratory events. I like the taste. The British drinking culture may have been what led me to discover it, but it really is as simple as that. It’s exactly the same as the way that I enjoy chocolate, coffee and cake.

But whilst alcohol and diabetes can mix, alcohol and pregnancy is a different proposition. Whilst the occasional glass of wine probably won’t do any harm, it’s certainly not something I think anyone can be confident about doing regularly. There’s a risk there, and for me, it’s not one worth taking. For the same reasons, the caffeine in my life has been dramatically cut – which has meant a reduction in my tea, coffee and Diet Coke habit.

In the first trimester, these things really were no big deal. As I’ve made plain, I enjoy alcohol, but I don’t NEED it, in any way shape or form. And during the height of my all day sickness, the very thought of either alcohol or coffee turned my stomach over and my face a pale shade of green.

But as time progressed and the nausea has given way to… well something else if not quite a bloom, I’ve begun to miss the taste. I’m thankful, therefore, for Caffeine Free Diet Coke, and decaf tea and coffee. They’re things that mean I can still have something I enjoy but without a side serving of guilt. Heaven knows there is enough guilt already involved in diabetes and pregnancy.

Alcohol has proved a bit more difficult though. It’s been a real challenge to find substitutes for my favourite drinks. I’ve tried a couple of de-alcoholised wines, but they tend to be a little over sweet and like many of the wine-substitute soft drinks (think Schloer) loaded with carbs. The potential blood sugar effect certainly isn’t worth dealing with for the taste that is nothing like wine.

However, I’ve just recently discovered that I can still get my beer fix. That I can enjoy beer without the alcohol. I’d obviously been aware of “low-alcohol” beers before. But they had two major drawbacks – generally being packed full of simple sugars and tasting pretty revolting. Then I read about Cobra Zero. It’s not low alcohol. It’s zero percent alcohol. And it has just 6.5 grams of carb per 330ml bottle. That’s significantly less than the regular Cobra Premium, and most other regular lagers too. So I decided to give it a try. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the taste isn’t bad at all. No one would mistake it for the real thing. It’s pretty hoppy tasting, but also fairly sweet – much sweeter than a regular lager. But with no alcohol and relatively few carbs, it’s friendly on the blood sugars too, so I’ll take it.

But on the same supermarket shelf, I also discovered other options. Beck’s Blue is also classed as alcohol free, although in reality has up to 0.5% ABV, since it is brewed in the regular way with the alcohol removed afterwards and it’s impossible to remove it all. It actually tastes fairly close to the regular Becks Vier. It’s much less sweet tasting than the Cobra, with a bit of a bitter afterkick. It has 6g or carbs per 275ml bottle – again, less than its regular counterpart. And finally I tried Bavaria, which like Cobra is truly 0% and possibly my favourite. It certainly tastes the most like a regular lager, and easily satisfies my desire to have a beer to accompany a curry or a big bowl of chilli. The only one I’ve yet to try is Bavaria Blonde, which I’m hoping might be a reasonable imitation of Hoegaarden.

I like having options. And I like stuff that makes life easier, without sacrificing lifestyle.

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