How Alcohol is Metabolized

What should you eat before and after drinking alcohol?
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #169

Should You Eat Before Drinking?

And speaking of calories, it’s definitely a good idea to eat some before drinking. Unlike other nutrients, alcohol can be absorbed directly from your stomach into your bloodstream, where it travels to your brain. This effect is accelerated when you drink on an empty stomach. Having food in your stomach slows the speed at which alcohol enters your blood stream.   A meal that includes some fat will work the best—but, despite popular lore, you don’t have to eat greasy fried foods. Healthier sources of fat, such as some guacamole, vegetables sautéed in olive oil, or a nice piece of salmon will work just as well.

4 Ways to Help a Hangover

Obviously, the best way to avoid a hangover is to avoid over-indulging. You might also want to choose your poison strategically. Even when the amount of alcohol consumed is the same, beer and clear liquors like vodka and gin may be less likely to cause a hangover than darker liquors like bourbon, whisky, and brandy. But if you do wake up with a hangover, there are few things you can do to aid your recovery.

1.  Rehydrate.   Many hangover symptoms are due to dehydration. If you’ve had quite a bit to drink, try to drink several glasses of water before retiring. Keep a glass of water next to the bed and if you wake up in the middle of the night, have some more. Continue drinking water once you wake up.

If plain water is making you queasy, Gatorade or another electrolyte replacement drink may be easier to handle.

2.  Try aspirin and caffeine. The combination of aspirin and caffeine works better than either alone to relieve headaches and other hangover symptoms. You can simply take a couple of aspirin (or Alka-seltzer, if your stomach is upset) and have some coffee.   Although the popular headache medication Excedrin contains both aspirin and caffeine, it also contains acetaminophen. The combination of alcohol and acetaminophen can be extremely toxic to the liver so you don’t want to take Tylenol, Excedrin, or any other drug containing acetaminophen if you’ve had more than a couple of drinks. (See also the Housecall Doctor’s article on acetaminophen.)

3.  Have a light meal. Although it’s true that alcohol metabolism depletes certain B vitamins, there’s not a lot of evidence that taking B-vitamin supplements will help cure or prevent a helpful. What’s worse, B-vitamins can make you queasy, which is the last thing you need. But it couldn’t hurt to sprinkle some nutritional yeast (which is naturally high in b-vitamins) on a piece of toast. Even better, stir it into some scrambled eggs. In addition to being easy to digest, eggs also contain cysteine, which may be helpful in relieving symptoms.


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.