So, how was your weekend? Did you spend your Christmas quietly with your family, watching Die Hard or Home Alone? Or maybe you had a crazy get-together with your friends? Either way, chances are you sipped a bit of alcohol to get into the celebratory mood. Alcohol, after all, is a nigh-mandatory part of holiday celebrations.
For most people, holiday parties usually result in hangovers. And even if you’re not the type to suffer from debilitating headaches on the morning after, chances are your body is feeling the effects; it’s just not screaming at you as loudly as most other people do.
And with January 1st quickly approaching, I think it would be prudent for all of us to keep a few notes about hangovers in our minds. After all, there’s a reason it’s widely known under the moniker “Hangover Day.” We’re not saying you will necessarily drink on New Year’s Eve. We just know most people will be doing it. But those who are forewarned are forearmed.
Knowing about what causes hangovers and how to mitigate them can help you alleviate the worse of the effects the morning after.
Why Do We Get Hangovers?
Most of us regard hangovers as a temporary inconvenience, and they usually are (thank God!). But what is a temporary inconvenience to us is severe stress for our bodies - it’s a milder, short-term alcohol withdrawal.
Drinking alcohol is essentially you ingesting a mild poison. It hits your neurotransmitters, blood vessels, gut, and the liver the hardest. Your body responds accordingly: it uses an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) to break down the main enemy - ethanol.
But before ethanol goes the complete cycle of breaking down into carbon dioxide and water, it manages to turn your body against itself - causes flushes, rapid heartbeat, nausea, and acts as a diuretic facilitating dehydration.
Depending on various factors (how sensitive to alcohol you are, what kind of alcohol you drink, how much you drink, etc.), hangovers can range from mild to debilitating and last between a couple of hours to over a day.
If there was ever good enough of a reason NOT to risk a hangover, it’s the prospect of suffering through it longer than the party lasted.
Good thing the symptoms can be mitigated!
How to Enjoy Yourself AND Avoid a Hangover:
Now the easiest way to avoid a hangover is obvious: drink moderately or not at all. Alas, if most people could adhere to that advice, there would be no need for hangover remedies in the first place. The truth of the matter is, forgetting your limits is easy when your senses are inhibited, and what hinders them? That’s right: alcohol!
So you’ve got to make the best use of your time while still possessing critical thinking skills. Approach it like a battle. Your enemy in the ring is strong and vicious, but you know where its strengths lie. You cannot take away its power. How do you circumvent it?
While research into hangovers is still incomplete, there’s one detail almost all researchers agree on - the faster the alcohol is absorbed, the more debilitating your hangover will be. Sure certain types of drinks may have a worse effect, but in the end, the more and faster you drink, the worse the overall impact.
The solution? Eat well before you hit the town, and keep properly hydrated throughout.
Drinking on a full stomach slows down alcohol absorption. Foods that are rich in protein and fats are particularly good at it since they are digested slower than carbs and keep your stomach lined for longer.
That is not to say that carbs are useless against alcohol. All food is better than no food at all, even a piece of toast (better yet, if it’s been buttered), but fiber-rich carb-heavy foods may be handy. High-fiber foods like leafy greens, lentils, oatmeal, etc., partially break down alcohol and absorb it, causing the rest of it to be absorbed into the bloodstream more slowly.
What to Eat Before Drinking:
Honestly, you should eat a complete, well-balanced meal rich in protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates that prevent quick sugar release into the bloodstream. If you’re going to party, partying on a full stomach is your best shot at keeping a steady energy level, having better control of your senses, and avoiding a hangover on the morning after.
But that’s not always possible, we know. So here’s a list of particularly useful ingredients you can always use to assemble something easy and quick to line your stomach before you go sipping on the wine, whiskey, and cocktails.
Rich in protein and healthy fats, eggs are as close to an ideal pre-drinking food as it gets. They also pack a decent amount of magnesium, one of the micronutrients (along with potassium) your body is most likely to lose in significant quantities due to alcohol’s diuretic effects.
Not only are eggs an excellent stomach liner AND a nutrient-dense option, but they’re also versatile and easy to cook. If you’re already running late, eggs are a no-brainer: you can get a scramble or a sunny-side-up on a toast ready in five minutes and be out the door.
On the other hand, if you don’t want to get any cookware dirty, then cheese is your next best option. Technically, cheese contains more protein, fats, and micronutrients like magnesium and potassium per gram than eggs. Cheese is an excellent pre-drinking snack, though less of a full meal (which means you may avoid a hangover the next day if you eat a lot of cheese, but you might find yourself susceptible to food cravings and binging after drinking).
Adding cheese to your pre-party meal is a great choice, but do try not to make it the main course.
Cured meats are a highly concentrated protein source and usually contain high amounts of fat and salt. A potent combination of alcohol’s natural enemies, various cured meats, and meat products like jerky, salami, chorizo, prosciutto, etc., can be a handy addition to your pre-drinking snack.
In fact, if you don’t have time to make anything more substantial, cheese and salami (or any other meat product that doesn’t need cooking) sandwich should be your go-to option. Throw a high-protein bread like classic sourdough into the mix, and you should be good to go (and drink) for the next couple of hours.
Add a pickle to the sandwich (or munch on it on the side), and you’ve got a killer combo.
Yes, pickles are often lauded as one of the best hangover remedies, but did you know they can keep the hangover at bay too?
Now, this is a bit complicated. Pickles on their own don’t necessarily prevent (or cure) hangovers. At least, there’s no large-scale research that has scientifically proven they do, so the claims are all anecdotal at this point. But we know that pickles are exceptionally high in sodium and potassium - micronutrients you’re at increased risk of losing in case of medium-to-high alcohol consumption. So adding various pickled vegetables (cucumbers, peppers, beetroot, etc.) and even not-quite vegetables like pickled olives (better yet, if they’re stuffed with cheese - that’s an additional boost of protein and fats right there!) increases your chances of escaping electrolyte imbalance and reduce the effects of a hangover.
Certain fruits, rich in specific vitamins and micronutrients, can help keep your vitamin/micronutrient levels high and prevent the worse hangover effects. Mainly fruits rich in vitamin C and potassium.
Fruits like oranges, bananas, and watermelon are among the best options for pre-drinking snacks. Blueberries, well-known for their anti-inflammatory effect, are another. Remember, drinking alcohol means mildly poisoning yourself and causing your body to attack itself - this has a high chance of causing an inflammatory reaction, which blueberries can mitigate the effects of.
Fish that are naturally rich in protein and healthy fats, particularly Omega-3 fatty acids, are some of the most effective anti-hangover food. Not only does the high-protein, high-fat content helps it effectively line your stomach and decrease alcohol absorption, but Omega-3 fatty acids are naturally anti-inflammatory, decreasing the number of compounds that cause inflammation.
So if you have some high-fat fish in the fridge, you should absolutely include it in your pre-drinking menu. And no, you don’t need to spend half an hour roasting and plating salmon or tuna (though absolutely go for it if you have time and strength). Some canned fish with a piece of toast will work just fine.
Beans and Lentils
Like most food options on this list, beans and lentils have the great benefit of being both nutritionally dense and long-lasting. They’re rich in protein, which makes them both significant inhibitors of alcohol absorption, and they’re rich in potassium, boosting the amount in your body and preventing the alcohol from flushing it out.
The one downside is that, well, you will need to have them cooked beforehand to enjoy the great benefits. It’s not something to throw in a pot for five minutes if you’re already late to your New Year’s party.
But if you’re the type of person who does meal plans and likes to keep beans and lentils ready in a fridge? Then you should definitely build your pre-party dinner around them. Boost the fat content a little, and you’ve got precisely what you need.
Leafy greens like spinach, kale, arugula, and bok choy are known to be some of the most nutritionally dense foods, rich in various vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. But what makes them particularly well-suited for a pre-drinking meal is the amount of complex fiber they contain. That same complex fiber helps with alcohol breakdown before the body fully absorbs it.
Also, they’re ridiculously easy to add to meals. Just add some spinach to your omelet or some arugula to your sandwich, and you’ve done the job. It’s basically a no-brainer.
Soups have the benefit of being nutritionally dense and well-balanced. A properly prepared soup tends to have a proper content of complex carbohydrates from vegetables and protein and fats from meat (and often broth, if it’s meat-based). Soups are also highly customizable and versatile, easy to adjust to your tastes.
Add or subtract ingredients as you see fit. As long as there are some meat or seafood, leafy greens, and nutritionally dense vegetables in there - a soup will do an excellent job impeding alcohol absorption. Throw in some instant ramen noodles or rice to make it extra filling, and you’re good to go!
Easy to cook and highly customizable, oatmeal can be easily transformed both into a light snack and a proper pre-party meal. Oats are rich in micronutrients like calcium, magnesium, and B-group vitamins like niacin and folate. They are fiber-rich, and, what’s more, they’re rich in fibers called beta-glucans which have anti-inflammatory effects.
Add some olive oil or butter and some shredded cheese for a more filling, protein-heavy meal, or pair it with a banana, orange, blueberries, and nut butter of your choice, for a lighter snack.
Have a jar of overnight oats in your fridge? Great! You know what to do.
Honey may not contain any proteins or fats, but it’s high in fructose, and apparently, the theory goes that fructose helps rid the body of alcohol quicker.
The research on the subject matter is limited, but having either a spoonful of honey or a glass of honey water is apparently a popular preventative tactic.
What Should an Ideal Meal Before a Night Out Look Like?
It should be rich in healthy fats, proteins, and, ideally, complex carbs.
Luckily, throwing something hearty with a good balance of protein, fats, and carbs is simpler than you might think: an avocado toast with a fried egg, instant ramen noodles garnished with a boiled egg, and pretty much any vegetables that have rolling around in your fridge, or a quick makeshift cheese board, with any cheese, hams, and other antipasti you’ve got on your hands.