For many of us, socializing with friends over a few drinks is one of the best ways to unwind or celebrate the weekend ahead. But while it’s true that some alcohol can actually be good for you, the vast majority of people tend to overindulge on sugar-laden calorie bombs that throw off any healthy eating plans, wreck their metabolisms and leave them feeling bloated, nauseous and definitely less than festive. The good news, though, is that you don’t have to abstain from alcohol completely in order to remain healthy. These six tips will help you enjoy your next cocktail party or happy hour—without having a nutrition hangover the next day.
Before You Head Out:
Factor drinks into your day’s caloric plan.
Let’s be honest: just a few drinks can pack on several hundred calories. One 12-oz. beer, for example, can contain more than 100 calories alone. So if you’re inclined to guzzle down three or four throughout the evening, you’ll have drunk the equivalent of a meal before you know it.
If you know you’ll be attending an event where the drinks will be flowing, factor that into your day’s nutrition and workout plan. Hit the gym that morning, get your blood flowing at a yoga class or have a lighter lunch to balance out the extra calories. You’ll feel better about “pre-tackling” your liquid calories, and you might even feel more motivated to slow down on the drinks.
Whatever you do, though, don’t skip eating that day! In fact, that leads me to my next point…
Eat before drinking.
It might seem obvious to point out, but before a big night out, it’s critical to chow down. Having food in your belly, especially healthy fats and protein, will help slow the absorption of alcohol, keeping you level-headed for longer. If you wait until you’ve had a few drinks before eating, that food will be a lot less effective at keeping you on an even keel, and the chances that you’ll actually opt for healthy food after a few drinks is slim.
A sweet potato stuffed with veggies and chicken, wild-caught salmon salad with avocado and nuts, or a Mediterranean plate with hummus, falafel, fresh veggies and olives all have a great mix of healthy fats, protein and good-for-you carbs to line your stomach and prepare your body for the cocktails to come.
Plan your post-drinking meal in advance.
For many people, it’s not the actual drinking that brings on the “what did I do last night?” feeling — it’s the empty fast food wrappers littered across the kitchen. Pre-empt the temptation to gorge on junk food by stocking your fridge with healthy options. Having nutritious grab-and-go options on hand when you return from a night out means you can skip buying food and fuel your body with the proper nutrients that will help you avoid a hangover. Try my vegan sushi or zucchini pizza boats.
While You’re Out:
Skip the mixed drinks.
If you want to keep calories down and limit the woozy effects of alcohol, steer clear of mixed drinks. Those made with juices and sodas are full of sugar, which not only cause you to pack on the pounds (thanks to the additional calories they add on top of the alcohol), but it also leads to sugar highs and subsequent crashes. Carbonated drinks are also absorbed more quickly into the bloodstream, leaving you feeling tipsy quicker.
Skip sugary mixers, juices, energy drinks and simple syrups. Instead, opt for fresh citrus juices, bitters and aromatics that’ll flavor your drink without adding calories. Some of my favorites are tequila on the rocks with fresh lime juice or a vodka with fresh lime and bitters.
Opt for red wine and dark beers.
If you’re a wine drinker, you’re in luck: red wine can actually give your health a boost. Resveratrol, an antioxidant that’s found in the skin of grapes used to make red wine, has been found to fight dangerous inflammation in the body, lower bad cholesterol levels and fight free radical damage. Red wine has also been linked with reducing the risk of death by cardiovascular disease and keeping your brain sharp. (That’s when you have it in moderation, of course!)
If you’re more of a beer drinker, choosing darker beers over lighter ones can also have a positive effect on your health. Thanks to the high amount of hops, dark beers can lower bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels, both of which affect heart health. Choose micro-brews that are rich in both color, flavor and benefits.
Alternate your drinks with water.
Though you might be heading to the bathroom more frequently, alternating each drink with a glass of water will help slow down the absorption of alcohol through your body. Because alcohol is a diuretic, drinking enough water will also keep you from getting dehydrated, which is one of the leading factors that causes you to get drunk.
Drink only in moderation.
While indulging in a few drinks every now and then isn’t going to seriously impact your health, regular drinking will absolutely have an effect. Excessive drinking can cause inflammation of the pancreas, which disrupts your digestive system and metabolism. Too much alcohol in your digestive tract also makes it more difficult for your body to absorb vitamins and nutrients because it’s too busy trying to process the alcohol. You might find yourself getting sick more often, too, as alcohol can weaken your immune system and make it harder for your body to defend itself. Finally, drinking excessively may increase your breast cancer risk and lead to liver disease.
Your best bet? Feel free to go out and socialize with friends and family, but keep your total drink count to 2 (if you’re a woman) or 3 (if you’re a man).