By Ana Snyder, M.S., Exercise Physiology; CPT, FNS
If you have ever woken up with a horrible hangover, what you may not have realized is that your hangover pain is just a symptom of more significant short-term effects of alcohol. Dehydration is just one of many contributing factors. Hangovers are a result of a lot of other variables in your body being negatively impacted by alcohol, and continuing to abuse alcohol over a longer period of time will only make them worse. Longtime alcoholics often develop liver disease or high blood pressure. Despite these risks, many people still choose to consume alcohol. With that in mind, I’ll get into which foods to eat before drinking alcohol to lessen its negative effects.
Regardless of how much you drink on a regular basis, the only way to avoid all of these negative effects is to join the sober life. I realize that, for social drinkers, this usually isn’t a realistic goal, so I’m going to share with you the second-best way to avoid a hangover—eat a well-balanced meal before you grab the vodka. Eating slows the rate at which your body absorbs alcohol, making you feel less intoxicated and balancing your electrolytes. However, it’s very important you choose the right foods. Choosing the wrong ones can promote dehydration, bloating, and acid reflux.
As I mentioned before, dehydration is only one of the culprits responsible for making you sick the day after drinking. Dehydration isn’t really a major factor because it can be easily prevented if you drink water throughout the night. The toxicity of alcohol, however, is much harder to avoid. Its effects strain the digestive system, nervous system, and brain. It only goes away with time and can only be prevented by drinking less alcohol or eating.
One of the toxins alcohol breaks down into is called ethanal. Scientists believe some individuals may lack the enzymes to digest ethanol, resulting in hangovers. Other causes of drinking-related sickness are high levels of alcohol in the brain or toxic byproducts in wine and beer. Alcohol in the brain causes inflammation in your brain. Toxic byproducts cause your body to release stress hormones. Both cause you to feel sick.
If you eat something before you drink, you can slow the absorption of alcohol. This keeps your blood alcohol level from rising and reduces the toxins in your body.
Now that we understand how important it is to eat, let’s talk about what we should be eating!
Avocados are rich in healthy fats, which digest very slowly to the point where too much avocado can lead to excessive bloating. They are an excellent choice to eat before drinking, though, because they really slow down how quickly your alcohol hits your bloodstream. Avocados are also a good source of potassium—an electrolyte often decreased when you drink. Since half an avocado supplies 7% of your daily needs, it balances your electrolytes with ease.
Bananas are an important food to eat because they are very high in potassium. When you drink alcohol, your potassium levels drop. Since potassium regulates blood pressure, fluids, and muscle function, you want to make sure to keep it at a healthy number. Eating bananas is a great way to increase it before you go out so it doesn’t drop too low.
Several studies involving beets and rats have shown positive results in liver function. One found that beets reversed liver damage by 38%, and another found it increased enzymes that detoxify the liver. It’s believed beets could have a similar effect in humans, helping your liver process more alcohol and protect it from damage.
Eggs are helpful to eat before drinking for a couple of reasons. First of all, they are extremely high in protein at 7 grams per 56 grams of eggs. Like foods high in fat, those high in protein also digest slower, slowing alcohol absorption. Second, eggs are high in a substance called cysteine. Cysteine plays an important role in alcohol metabolism. It breaks down acetaldehyde (a byproduct of alcohol very similar to formaldehyde) so that your body can excrete it. When you drink too much, your body can’t handle all of the acetaldehyde being produced. You may begin to feel flushed, nauseous, or dizzy, or you may have heart palpitations that leave you feeling hungover the next day. Eating eggs builds up your body’s defenses, increasing its cysteine and metabolizing power against acetaldehyde.
Grapefruit contains two antioxidants, naringenin and naringin, that protect the liver and increase its function. It also has several enzymes that improve liver health. Aside from this, it is rich in fiber and vitamin C. Grapefruit is truly a power food! The one thing to be cautious about is that grapefruit may block certain medications you’re taking, so be sure to check with your doctor before you enjoy one of these!
Greek yogurt is another food high in protein; however, it also contains fats and carbohydrates. This makes it a well-balanced choice. Besides keeping you full with protein, it also keeps your blood sugar from rising with high-quality carbohydrates. Be sure to compare Greek and Icelandic yogurt, too. Whatever your choice, you’ll thank yourself at the end of the night when it keeps you from being hungry and craving food.
Oats use protein and fiber to delay alcohol’s effects. They also seem to improve liver function and may protect the liver against alcohol damage.
Salmon is perfect before a night of drinking simply because it’s high in protein and healthy fat, slowing alcohol metabolism. It’s also high in Vitamin B12, which decreases with alcohol consumption.
Made of complex carbohydrates, sweet potatoes take a while for your body to digest. This prevents blood sugar spikes and will keep you from the overeating often caused by drinking. Like the other foods here, they also slow alcohol absorption. Lastly, sweet potatoes also help balance out your electrolytes, as they are high in potassium.
The more food you have in your stomach, the slower alcohol will absorb, and the less likely you are to feel sick the next morning. Most of the foods discussed above may sound more like snacks and not as filling as they could be. The best way to create a well-balanced meal that keeps you satiated is to take a few of those foods and make them into a meal.
Meals high in protein and fat are the best at slowing alcohol absorption. Also, healthy foods are best, since they have healthy fat and fiber and complex carbohydrates for lasting energy. Selecting foods that meet each of these requirements will be your best chance at beating the dreaded hangover.
The quickest, most efficient way to make a well-balanced, “pre-party” meal is to use a meal prep service like Trifecta meals. Other options that may also work are avocado toast on a piece of bread with high fiber content. Regardless of whether you eat gluten or not, you should look for loaves with the highest fiber so you stay full. Peanut butter and an apple is another alternative and will give you some healthy fats and fiber. Lastly, a turkey sandwich (with bread high in fiber) will give the most complete meal with protein, fiber, and some healthy fats.
Eating rapidly slows your level of intoxication, decreasing your blood alcohol level, and helping your body excrete it more efficiently.