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Alcohol and PKU


Having PKU does not mean that alcohol is off limits, it’s just important to be aware of the amount and type of alcohol you choose to drink and most importantly that you drink responsibly.

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Important Facts
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  • The legal drinking age in the UK is 18 years.
  • Some alcoholic drinks contain protein and therefore must be counted as exchanges.
  • To keep health risks to a minimum, guidelines state not to drink more than 14 units per week on a regular basis.
  • Avoid alcohol in pregnancy.

The effect of drinking alcohol is the same for individuals with or without PKU. Alcohol, in any amount, can affect your body in some form. It can change the way your brain processes information and affects your ability to make decisions. In terms of PKU this could be in relation to food choices; for example, you may choose something to eat which could raise your phe levels.  

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Measuring Alcohol Intake

Alcohol is usually measured as a unit.

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One unit is 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol. However, alcohol comes in different strengths and sizes and it can be difficult to ascertain how many units you are drinking. Unit guidelines are the same for men and women and you shouldn’t regularly exceed 14 units.  Don’t save up your units, spread them evenly throughout the week. 

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What Does 1 Unit Of Alcohol Look Like?
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A standard spirit measure can range from 25 to 35mls and even 50mls in some bars and restaurants which can make it more difficult to monitor unit intake. This is similar with wine glass sizes; a small glass can range from 125-150mls, it’s important to be aware of this to allow you to monitor your intake accurately.  

For further information on measuring alcohol intake refer to


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Alcohol Choices

There are many alcoholic drinks, however some do contain phe and therefore like every other protein containing food or drink should be counted.

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Most mixers are low protein however some diet mixers will contain aspartame, so it is very important to check labels.

Drinks containing negligible or only a trace amount of protein:

  • Cider (dry, sweet and vintage cider)
  • Bottled shandy (Pub Shandy is stronger, contains significant amounts of phenylalanine and should be counted as an exchange – see below)
  • Martini (dry and sweet)
  • Spirits (whiskey, gin, rum, brandy, vodka, Pimm’s)
  • Wine (red, white or rosé)
  • Champagne and prosecco
  • Fortified wine (port and sherry)
  • Vermouth (dry and sweet)
  • Liquors (cherry brandy, Curacao)
  • Cocktails (those that include suitable spirits and mixers*)
  • Alcopops* (Hooch, Bacardi Breezer, Source, Metz etc.)
  • Ginger beer*

*remember to check for aspartame.

Drinks which need to be counted as phe exchanges:

  • Beer - all beer, brown ale, pale ale, lager, stout and stout extra (1 pint = 1.5 phe exchanges)
  • Guinness/ Murphy’s- (1 pint = 2 phe exchanges)
  • Strong ales - (250ml = 1.5 exchanges)
  • Pub shandy (made with pub beer or lager) - (1 pint = 0.5 exchange
  • Cream liqueurs e.g Bailey’s Irish Cream and Cadbury’s cream - (30ml = 1 exchange)

Drinks to avoid as they contain high levels of phe:

  • Advocaat (a rich and creamy drink made from egg yolk, sugar and brandy)
  • Cocktails that contain eggs e.g. Amaretto Sours or Pisco Sours

For further information on alcohol choices with PKU, refer to

Alcoholic drinks that do not contain phe will not affect your blood phe levels, however, remember that the effects of drinking alcohol are the same for individuals with and without PKU.

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Important things to keep in mind:

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  1. Stick to the recommendations of less than 14 units per week, aiming to have several alcohol-free days per week and avoid binge drinking
  2. Check labels for aspartame, especially mixer drinks
  3. Consider protein content of food eaten when drinking alcohol.
  4. Consider the calorie content of alcohol. Alcohol is often referred to as empty calories and it has no/minimal nutritional value, but does contain a significant number of calories.
  5. Never drink on an empty stomach.
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Tips For Reducing Alcohol Intake
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  • Aim to pour your own drinks, measure spirits rather than free pouring
  • Drink slowly and with food
  • Alternate alcoholic drinks with water
  • Track your alcohol consumption
  • Aim for several alcohol-free days each week
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Learn more about PKU

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