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How to Prevent a Hangover From Happening

Did you know there is a 100-percent foolproof way to prevent a hangover? Want to hear it? You’re not going to like it, we can promise you that. The way to prevent a hangover? Put the glass down and don’t drink.

See? We told you that you wouldn’t want to hear it. It was hard enough for us to type those damnable words.

Since not drinking is out of the question for most of us, we wanted to find out things we could do that would also help us prevent a hangover (while still drinking). To do that, we spoke with registered dietitian and food blogger Tali Sedgwick. Before we get to the tips and tricks, though, a little bit of science.

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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,” Sedgwick says. “We can store the calories that come from alcohol, but we can’t store the alcohol itself.”

friends drinking drinks bar
Thomas Barwick

The body responds to the simple sugars in alcohol by pumping out insulin, which then results in a low blood sugar situation. “About 20 percent of alcohol goes to the stomach, where it gets absorbed directly and gives you that buzz right away,” according to Sedgwick. “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, which is the equivalent of an ounce of hard liquor.

3 Best Ways to Prevent a Hangover

Now, onto prevention. Sedgwick has three main tips for those looking for a little help. The abridged version is as follows, but we’ve got explanations, hints, and tips for each method as well. Make sure to read through to the end to be able to craft yourself into the ultimate hangover preventer.

  1. Eat a healthy meal before drinking
  2. Choose your drinks wisely.
  3. Drink plenty of water.

1. Eat a Healthy Meal Before Drinking

Chew before brew. Dine before wine. Bisque-y before whiskey. 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 of shots; before you start drinking anything at all.

What to Eat:

  • Brown rice,
  • Pasta
  • Whole-grain bread
  • Avocado
  • Chili peppers
  • Kiwi
  • Strawberries
  • Pineapple

“If you’re drinking on an empty stomach, even just 2 ounces of alcohol can lead to really low blood sugar levels,” Sedgwick says.

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. On this, Sedgwick adds, “You’re not giving your body enough time to process the beer, then you’re just slamming it with liquor.”

Clear spirits or white wine may reduce the likelihood of a hangover.

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,” she says. “More sugar is just going to add to the problem.”

Clear spirits or white wine may reduce the likelihood of a hangover. Unfortunately for 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 thousand 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.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Sedwick also recommends drinks with electrolytes (like sports drinks), 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,” she says. You might also consider drinking fruit or vegetable juice so you can get your vitamin C on.

One last thing: Sedgwick says to remember 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.

Sam Slaughter
Sam Slaughter was the Food and Drink Editor for The Manual. Born and raised in New Jersey, he’s called the South home for…
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