There's no question booze can do a number on your body, especially when you throw back a few too many (hello, awkward holiday happy hour!)—from bloating and brain fog to the all-out misery of a head-pounding hangover. But by taking a few precautions before the alcohol starts to flow, you can help minimize the damage, experts say. Here's what to eat (and what to skip) to prep you body for a big night out.
The food in your stomach when you start drinking affects how quickly that booze goes to your head. With more food in your stomach, alcohol is absorbed more slowly, and it takes longer to feel its effects, explains George F. Koob, PhD, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “When you drink on an empty stomach, you feel tipsy very fast, whereas you might not even notice if you consumed the same amount of alcohol with a meal,” he says.
While just about any food in your belly is helpful, Koob notes that some experts argue meals with protein and fat are even more effective at slowing alcohol absorption. For that reason, nutritionist Claudia T. Felty, PhD, RDN, recommends Buddha bowls: “They provide a healthy dose of plant protein, healthy fats, and hydrating veggies.” (Try our Salmon Noodle Bowl for a filling meal that fits the bill.)
Most Americans don’t eat enough produce, and that’s bad news for our health overall. But fruits and veggies might be especially important if you’re planning to indulge in adult beverages. That's because these nutritious eats are a great way to stay hydrated: “Fruits and vegetables provide antioxidants and vitamins you need to stay healthy, while providing a large dose of water as well,” Felty points out. Cucumbers, celery, and watermelon are some of the most hydrating picks.
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Even if you load up on produce before a night out, you should still hydrate before and during the festivities. The classic advice, Koob says, is to alternate between your alcoholic drink of choice and a glass of water. “It helps you avoid hangovers and drinking past your limit.” Even adding ice cubes to your drink can be helpful, he says.
To tell if you’re properly hydrated before you hit happy hour, take a peek at the color of your pee. It should look like lemonade. If it's any darker than that, down some more H2O.
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Worst: Chocolate, tomatoes, and spices
Here's another reason to eat before you go out: Alcohol on an empty stomach can trigger irritation that leads to acid reflux, especially in someone who has GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) or is susceptible to heartburn, Koob says. “Chocolate, tomato, and some seasonings may be irritants that increase reflux–and alcohol can contribute to that,” he says. Soda and fried food might also cause reflux; so before you imbibe, it's best to avoid those too.
If you load up on salty, processed snacks before indulging in adult beverages, you may find yourself bloated, Felty warns. The puffiness may be uncomfortable, but that's not the only potential consequence: Since bloating makes you feel full, you may be reluctant to down the H2O your body craves: “Bloat can have you drinking less water than you need to stay hydrated while drinking alcohol,” she says.
Need to make an appearance at a boozy gathering, but feeling totally wiped? You may be tempted to reach for a caffeinated pick-me-up. But caffeine and alcohol don’t always mix. The energizing effects of the caffeine “give you a sense that you’re not intoxicated, or not sleepy,” Koob says. That might lead you to drink even more–or to think that you’re sober enough to drive home when you’re actually not. “When the caffeine wears off, you could fall asleep on highway 95,” he warns. “It can be a dangerous combination.”