Alcohol and sugar
Alcoholic drinks can contain lots of sugar, as well as alcohol. Find out how this can affect your health, and how to cut down.
Too much sugar in your diet can make you gain weight, and is also one of the main causes of tooth decay. You would probably expect to find sugar in sweets, cakes and fizzy drinks - but did you know that alcoholic drinks can be full of sugar too?
A pint of cider can contain as many as five teaspoons of sugar – almost as much as the NHS recommended daily limit.
The fact that alcoholic drinks are full of empty calories (from the alcohol, as well as any sugar content) and have no useful nutritional value is why alcohol can be bad news for your waistline.
What’s more, alcohol can alter your blood sugar level, which increases the risk of developing alcohol-related diabetes, and is very dangerous for people with the condition.
Too much sugar is bad for your heath in a number of ways.
Firstly, it’s very high in calories, and excessive consumption can lead to unhealthy weight gain. Being overweight can make you more susceptible to long-term health problems, including life threatening illnesses such as heart disease, certain types of cancer and type 2 diabetes.
Sugar is also the main cause of tooth decay,2 which can lead to cavities if left untreated.
Alcoholic drinks are responsible for more than nine percent of the ‘free sugar’ consumed by people aged between 18-74 in the UK.3 Despite this, many people forget to factor in what they drink when calculating their daily sugar intake.
All alcoholic drinks contain some sugar, but some have more than others - fortified wines, sherries, liqueurs, cider and pre-mixed drinks like alcopops have particularly high levels. The alcoholic drink with the highest sugar content has more than 15 teaspoons of sugar in its 700ml pack.4
The calories people consume through alcohol are usually additional to the calories they consume in the rest of their diet, rather than a replacement. That means you could be having lots of extra calories in your drinks without thinking about it, and that will lead to weight gain.5
And because many alcoholic drinks – particularly spirits like gin, vodka and whisky – are mixed with fizzy drinks, the sugar content doesn’t stop with the alcoholic part.
If you have diabetes, drinking alcohol can lead to ‘hypoglycaemic unawareness’.6 In other words, the combined effect of the reduction in your blood sugar with the disinhibiting effect of alcohol can mean you’re less likely to notice the warning signs of low blood sugar.
This results in a much higher risk of severe hypos (when the level of glucose in your blood drop too low) - which have significantly higher risks of heart problems and brain damage.
If you’re worried about maintaining a healthy weight, it makes sense to track how many units of alcohol and calories you’re having:
It’s also a good idea to avoid drinking on an empty stomach. Food helps slow down the rate at which your body absorbs alcohol, meaning your blood glucose level isn’t affected as significantly.8
The MyDrinkaware app is an easy way to keep track of both the units and the calories in your alcoholic drinks, with personalised goals and stats to keep you motivated on your journey.
Arming yourself with strategies and tips can help you or a loved one take small steps towards big results.
 Kwok, A., Dordevic, A.L., Paton, G., Page, M.J. and Truby, H. (2019). Effect of alcohol consumption on food energy intake: a systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Nutrition, 121(5),481-495.
 Martín-Timón, I., & Del Cañizo-Gómez, F. J. (2015). Mechanisms of hypoglycemia unawareness and implications in diabetic patients. World journal of diabetes, 6(7), 912–926. https://doi.org/10.4239/wjd.v6.i7.912
Last Reviewed: 1st March 2023
Next Review due: 1st March 2026