How to prevent an unholy hangover this St. Patrick’s Day
The Feast of Saint Patrick is upon us! This year, millions of hooligans will solemnly pay their respects by wearing green clothing, drinking green beer, and drunkenly singing the same verse of “Danny Boy” over and over. This is all fine on St. Patrick’s Day proper, but the day after isn’t nearly as much fun.
If you’re serious about preventing a hangover, don’t drink. However, we know that’s about as likely as zombie St. Patrick bringing all the snakes back to Ireland. We thought we’d put together a more realistic guide with the assumption that you’ll drink many flagons of ale. For help understanding how to prevent a hangover, we’ve enlisted the help of registered dietitian and food blogger Tali Sedgwick.
How Does Alcohol Affect the Body?
Understanding how the body metabolizes alcohol is a great first step toward understanding how to prevent a hangover. We know what you’re thinking: “Um, duh, it gets you drunk.” Well, it’s slightly more complicated than that. “When the body senses that you have alcohol in your system, it wants to metabolize that first before anything else, because we don’t store alcohol,” says Tali Sedgwick. “We can store the calories that come from alcohol, but we can’t store the alcohol itself.”
The body responds to the simple sugars in alcohol by pumping out insulin, which then results in a low blood sugar situation. “About 20% of alcohol goes to the stomach, where it gets absorbed directly and gives you that buzz right away,” says Tali. “The rest of it is processed in your intestines, as are most of your nutrients. A tiny bit is excreted through your breath, sweat, saliva, and urine.” Generally speaking, the body can process about a quarter to a third of an ounce of alcohol per hour — the equivalent of an ounce of hard liquor.
1. Eat a Healthy Meal Before Drinking
Chew before brew. Dine before wine. Bisque-y before whiskey. Lobsta before vodka. We have a million of these, but we’ll stop there. One of the keys to preventing a hangover is having a nice, healthy meal before you start drinking — not after a couple shots — but before you start drinking anything at all. “If you’re drinking on an empty stomach, even just 2 ounces of alcohol can lead to really low blood sugar levels,” says Tali.
A high-fiber meal takes a while to digest, and can help your body regulate blood sugars once you commence drinking. Antioxidants such as vitamin C can also help you process alcohol safely. High-fiber foods include brown rice, pasta, whole grain bread, and avocado. Good sources of antioxidants include chili peppers, kiwi, strawberries, and pineapple. For an easy pre-party meal, Tali recommends a brown rice stir fry with chicken, peppers, mango, and other fresh and tasty ingredients.
2. Choose Your Drinks Wisely
You’ve likely heard the rhyme “beer before liquor, never been sicker; liquor before beer, you’re in the clear.” Well, it’s not quite that simple. If you drink a lot of booze, it really doesn’t matter what order you drink it in. Still, there is a jigger of truth to the idea. The carbonation in beer can speed up the absorption of alcohol in the stomach. Here’s what Tali says about drinking beer before liquor: “You’re not giving your body enough time to process the beer, then you’re just slamming it with liquor.”
You might think that you can get a step ahead of your hangover by drinking fruity drinks. Fruit is good for you, right? Well, not when it’s piggybacking a couple ounces of liquor. “When you think of a fruity cocktail, typically the mixers have very little fruit, and a lot of added sugar,” says Tali. “More sugar is just going to add to the problem.” Clear spirits or white wine may reduce the likelihood of a hangover. Unfortunately for Irish whiskey lovers, darker drinks tend to have higher concentrations of congeners — byproducts of fermentation that have been proven to amplify hangovers. Also, cheap liquors are less likely to filter out congeners, and can lead to considerable unpleasantness if consumed in excess.
3. Drink Lots of Water
During a night of drinking, you may notice a spike in the number of bathroom visits. This is because alcohol acts as a diuretic, which means it increases the excretion of water from your body. You’ve probably heard this a million times before, but it truly bears a millionth and first mention: Drink water. All bars have water fountains or buckets, so you don’t have to feel lame about ordering water at the bar.
Tali also recommends drinks with electrolytes, as they can get your blood volume elevated more quickly. “Sports drinks work, but I’m also a big fan of coconut water as an electrolyte drink,” says Tali. You might also consider drinking fruit or vegetable juice so you can get your vitamin C on.
There you have it — three ways to prevent a hangover and still have a merry time on St. Patty’s Day. Tali says that mixing alcohol and exercise can worsen a hangover — as can drinking while tired. She also says that certain painkillers and other types of medication can multiply the effects of alcohol as much as tenfold. So don’t do that.
If you’re hoping for a magical remedy that will allow you to get rat-arsed on St. Patty’s Day and wake up doing a jolly Irish jig, you’re out of luck. According to a 2005 study on hangovers, “The most effective way to avoid the symptoms of alcohol-induced hangover is to practice abstinence or moderation.” Still, the above suggestions will at least dull the consequences of your revelry. In case you’re wondering, the patron saint of hangovers is Saint Bibiana (really).
Based in San Francisco, Tali Sedgwick, RDN is the mastermind behind Food NE/RD, a well-regarded food blog whose goal is “helping you feel your best, one forkful at a time.”