Planning your dinner before a big night out is almost as exciting as deciding what you're going to wear or browsing Yelp for the best happy hour bars. Usually, if you know you're going to be drinking a lot, you're probably going to pick a big, hearty meal that will keep your stomach on its best behavior if you happen to drink too much. Before drinking, pizza, burritos, and burgers usually seem more appetizing than, say, sushi, soup, or salad.
Some people are under the impression that eating certain foods before drinking will prevent a hangover, because the food "soaks up alcohol" in your stomach. But is that accurate, or just something people tell themselves before getting drunk? According to Alexis Halpern, MD, emergency medicine physician at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, it's true.
If you were to just pour alcohol into an empty stomach, it'd get absorbed by your stomach and intestines pretty much immediately, Dr. Halpern says. "You're just putting toxins into your body more quickly," she says. Now, on a full stomach you'll still feel the effects of alcohol, but it gets into your bloodstream slower, so you get intoxicated slower, she says. "[Food] is basically going to be like a buffer," she says. And as a result, you'll have less of a chance at getting sick or hungover.
If you give your body back the things that it needs and the things that it loses when you drink, you’re going to feel better no matter what.
Alexis Halpern, MD, emergency medicine physician at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center
So, what should you eat in order to hangover-proof your evening? Well, since nobody knows the exact cause of a hangover, it's impossible to say exactly how to prevent one. But in general, heavier foods will take more work for your body to break down, so they may be best, Dr. Halpern says.
But a "heavy" food doesn't mean one lacking nutrients. In fact, you should consider eating foods that are nutrient-rich, and will provide some vitamins, Dr. Halpern says. For example, eggs, meat, fish, and nuts contain protein, zinc, and B vitamins. Or, reach for avocados and bananas, because they contain potassium (which is an important electrolyte), she says. If you eat foods that also hydrate you (like watermelon, cucumber, tomato, and cantaloupe), it could sort of safeguard you, and prevent dehydration. "If you give your body back the things that it needs and the things that it loses when you drink, you’re going to feel better no matter what," she says.
Ideally, you would eat a gorgeous, nutritious meal before drinking and be invincible all night. Of course, that is not always how life works. If you forgot to eat before drinking, and slices of pizza (or the hors d'oeuvres at the wedding, or whatever is available in your pantry) are calling your name, then eating while you're still intoxicated is going to be better than not eating at all, Dr Halpern says. But it's better to eat before you start drinking to slow the effects of alcohol.
In addition to eating, it's even more important to drink water while you're drinking alcohol to prevent a hangover, Dr. Halpern says. "Try to have a drink, then a glass of water if that's how you need to think of it," she says. "Just make sure you're aware and keeping up with yourself." And as you plot your night out tonight, remember that the only way to really, truly prevent a hangover is to not drink at all. If you do that, you can have your pre-drinking meal and eat it too.