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Most of us have probably had a night where we had one too many margaritas and woke up feeling pretty... awful. While drinking in moderation (which the Dietary Guidelines for Americans defines as up to one drink per day for women, and up to two drinks per day for men) is associated with a few health benefits, drinking too much alcohol can have tons of negative health effects, including injuries, depression, anxiety, liver disease, and high blood pressure. Not to mention debilitating hangovers in the short term.
The only surefire way to avoid the negative effects of alcohol is to ditch drinking altogether. But if you know you’re going to be drinking and want to avoid feeling bad the next day, eating a meal before heading out is a good idea. Food keeps the alcohol in your stomach longer and slows the rate at which the alcohol is absorbed into the body, which means you'd need more alcohol to feel intoxicated (and hungover the next day).
“When you eat something before drinking, it slows down alcohol’s rate of absorption, so you don't get drunk as quickly,” explains Alissa Rumsey, a New York City-based registered dietitian. “Eating a meal that includes protein, fat, and carbohydrates is ideal, as this combination will fill you up and get absorbed more slowly.”
Now that you know eating is an important part of the equation, here are some of the best foods to eat if you’re going to be drinking alcohol.
Bananas are high in potassium, which is an electrolyte that plays an important role in muscle function, blood pressure, nerve function, and fluid regulation. Our bodies tend to lose potassium when we drink alcohol (especially when drinking excessive amounts), so eating potassium-rich foods prior to drinking can help boost the amount in your body. Spinach, avocado, potatoes, lentils, milk, and yogurt are also high in potassium and great to snack on before drinking.
Watermelon and cantaloupe are both great to consume before drinking because they contain a lot of water, which helps hydrate the body. Consuming melon and other hydrating foods can help prevent some of the dehydration that’s associated with alcohol consumption, Rumsey says. Melon is also full of essential electrolytes that can get depleted with alcohol consumption.
Salmon is rich in Vitamin B12, an important nutrient that’s often diminished with alcohol consumption. It’s also high in protein and healthy fats, both of which may slow the absorption of alcohol into the body. For an excellent pre-drinking meal, roast some salmon and pair it with asparagus and your favorite whole grains.
Greek yogurt is high in protein, which is digested slowly and slows the absorption of alcohol. In addition to protein, yogurt also contains fats and carbohydrates, making it a nutritious food that’s filling, provides lots of energy, and doesn’t cause blood sugar fluctuations, says Anthony Kouri, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Toledo Medical Center.
“Alcohol tends to make us crave food, but this can be thwarted by a high protein snack,” he says.
Alcohol is a diuretic (to put it bluntly, it makes you pee) and can easily lead you to become dehydrated. For this reason, sipping a few glasses of water is one of the most important things you can do before drinking. In addition to drinking water, you can also eat water-rich foods like cucumber, strawberries, and lettuce.
High in protein, chicken digests fairly slowly and helps slow the rate of alcohol being absorbed into the body. “Protein, along with fat and fiber, takes longer to digest which can help slow how quickly your blood alcohol level increases,” Rumsey says.
Avocado contains potassium, an important electrolyte that’s often diminished with heavy alcohol consumption. Somewhat of a nutritional powerhouse, avocado is also dense in healthy fats, which digest slowly to keep you full and slow the absorption of alcohol into your blood. One of the best things about avocado is that you can easily add it to nearly any meal.
Some studies show that asparagus is beneficial to liver health. “Studies have demonstrated that asparagus extract can improve markers of liver function in mice with liver damage,” Kouri says. He adds that asparagus also contains many antioxidants that may be able to repair damage caused by alcohol.
Sweet potatoes are a good addition to any meal or snack before you head out for a few drinks. They contain potassium and other electrolytes, and they’re also complex carbohydrates, which means they take a while to break down and may help slow the absorption of alcohol in the body.
Sweet potatoes have other benefits too. “Research has shown that sweet potatoes prevent swings in blood sugar, which can prevent the overeating caused by drinking,” Kouri says.
Korean Pear Juice
People who consume Korean pear juice (also known as Asian pear juice) before drinking may experience less severe hangovers the next day, research shows. “Korean (or Asian) pears have properties that work on enzymes of alcohol metabolism, specifically alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase,” Kouri says. “This speeds up alcohol elimination from the body.”
But remember to drink your pear juice before your first drink. Sipping pear juice at the end of the night won’t help prevent a hangover the next day.
Containing a healthy mix of fat, protein, and carbohydrates, hummus is a great snack choice before drinking. It’s a particularly good option for someone looking to load up on protein from a plant-based source.