The George Street Festival starts tonight and next week it’s all about the Regatta. Aside from the good times these events bring, the other thing they both have in common is alcohol.
Smart food and beverage choices before and after a night out can help prevent and lessen the effects of a hangover. I’m certainly not condoning drinking to excess by any means, but should you feel the effect of having one too many, here’s what you can do.
Before heading out, decide what you’ll be drinking ahead of time. Sticking with rum, vodka or gin may be wise. Clear alcohol is lower in a fermentation product called congeners, which can make a hangover worse. FYI, more congener-rich spirits include brandy, champagne, bourbon, cognac, whiskey, red wine and tequila.
You may want to rethink carbonated beverages too. These can cause alcohol to be absorbed more quickly, therefore a “buzz” from drinking will hit you much quicker. Carbonation can also relax the upper muscle of the stomach, which can stimulate reflux, or perhaps worse, encourage vomiting.
Remember that alcohol is dehydrating, too. Plan to drink a glass of water with every alcoholic drink to maintain good hydration, and if you remember, down a large glass of water before bed. If you’re too late to prevent a hangover, still focus your recovery around fluids.
In addition to requiring more water, electrolytes (sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, magnesium) are also important. These are the minerals which are responsible for maintaining a good fluid balance in the body, among other things.
Dietary sources of electrolytes plus fluids ideal for pre- and post-drinking include a sports drink, coconut water, milk, fruit and dairy smoothie, soup, pickle, banana, kiwi and orange juice.
To combat nausea after a night out choose starchy, easy to digest foods. Potatoes, rice, pasta, fruit, chicken soup, rice, apple sauce, crackers, bread, pretzels and crackers are safe bets. Ginger is also well known for its anti-nausea and digestion benefits.
To feel more energized, choose nutrient-dense foods. Alcohol does burn up B vitamins, especially B1, a.k.a. thiamin. Cereal and oatmeal are vitamin B1-rich foods which are easier on the stomach. If you can handle pork or soy, these are quite high in B1 also.
A 30-year review from the Annals of Internal Medicine noted that vitamin B6, pyridoxine, can be a potential hangover remedy. Protein-rich foods are the way to go for getting B6.
With all this talk of B vitamins, taking a multivitamin or B complex before bed may or may not help to prevent a hangover. It certainly won’t hurt, but whether or not this really does the trick isn’t well known.
To help undo some of the damage done by alcohol (excessive intake can induce free radical damage, i.e. chronic disease promoters), ensure your intake is plentiful in antioxidant vitamins. Easily abundant vitamin C is highest in guava, papaya, kiwi, citrus fruit and strawberries. Veggies like peppers, broccoli and cabbage are good, too.
Like asparagus? It may make your pee smell, but eating asparagus, a moderate source of vitamin C, before or while out can help prevent or ease a hangover. Scientists have found that extracts taken from the leaves and shoots of this veggie have increased levels of important enzymes that break down alcohol after heavy drinking.
Drinking on an empty stomach is not a good idea. Eating, or having just eaten, allows alcohol to peak more slowly in the blood, thereby slowing the absorption of alcohol.
Any food can slow the digestion of alcohol, especially fat. Although many people swear by it, there’s no real evidence linking a greasy breakfast to curing a hangover. “Soaking up” any alcohol with a greasy feed is common, but truth be told, if you are going to eat fat, it’s in your interest to do it before or while drinking.
The presence of fat in the gut does slow the absorption of alcohol. So think Mediterranean-style fats for the healthiest choices, like olives, fish, nuts and vegetable-based oils.
Don’t go the “homeopathic” route and treat the ailment with a small dose of what caused it, i.e. drinking more alcohol to cure a hangover. Also a myth is that drinking coffee can help you to sober up. Caffeine and sugar can both give a temporary energy surge, but it doesn’t last very long and can leave you more tired than before.
All in all, there really is no hangover magical cure, aside from drinking less in the first place.
With a little prep on the healthy side before and after a night out, however, the unwanted side effects of a night out may be lessened.
Amanda O’Brien is a registered dietitian in St. John’s. Contact her through
the website: www.recipeforhealth.ca.