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Drinking Habits

7 Foods To Avoid Having With Alcohol

Published:
May 18, 2024
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20 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
May 18, 2024
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
May 18, 2024
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
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Reframe Content Team
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20 min read

Foods To Leave Off Your Plate on a Drinking Night

  • Alcohol slows down digestion and causes dehydration, among other effects. As a result, many foods can cause indigestion or worsen hangovers if paired with booze.
  • You can avoid the problem by opting out of certain food and alcohol combos, including salty, sweet, and spicy foods. It’s also best to skip chocolate, beans, pizza, and caffeine.
  • Reframe can provide you with science-backed tips to coast through cravings for alcohol and foods (such as sweets) that you’re trying to cut back on. Start your journey to feeling healthier and happier, and enjoy your dinner out by making choices that work better for you!

As humorist poet Arthur Guiterman once suggested, “Don't tell your friends about your indigestion. 'How are you' is a greeting, not a question.” But sometimes that’s easier said than done! A few drinks in, after that late-night slice of pizza or scoop of Ben and Jerry’s refuses to settle in your stomach, it might be all you can do to keep from talking about your stomach woes. A bad case of indigestion can certainly ruin your night — and more often than not, it might have something to do with food and alcohol battling it out in the belly.

In spite of what the Food and Wine franchise might have you believe, many foods don’t mix with wine (or any alcohol for that matter). Even some traditional pairings, such as wine and chocolate or beer and pretzels, can mess with our body and lead to stomach discomfort and morning-after queasiness. What you eat before and after a night out matters as well. What is the effect of food when you drink alcohol? Should you eat after drinking alcohol? And what are the worst foods to eat before drinking? Let’s explore!

All About Alcohol Metabolism 

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Before we get into specific foods, let’s take a brief look at how alcohol is broken down by the body. 

  • Alcohol is a toxin. The main fact to keep in mind? The body sees alcohol as a poison and prioritizes getting it out of our system as soon as possible. Other processes get put on hold until it’s eliminated.
  • The liver runs the show. The liver is on the front line of alcohol metabolism, converting it to acetaldehyde — a compound more toxic than alcohol itself. Acetaldehyde is then converted into harmless acetate, which is excreted by the kidneys.
  • Other metabolic processes are stalled. With alcohol being the priority, other nutrients have to wait in the metabolism line (and are more likely to get stored as fat). Moreover, essential nutrients don’t get absorbed, potentially leading to malnourishment.

In addition to changing the way the body processes food, alcohol also affects our water balance. You know all those incessant bathroom trips throughout the evening? That’s alcohol telling our kidneys to let loose, leading to dehydration. That morning-after hangover and the pounding headache it brings with it is largely the result.

Seven Food and Alcohol Pairings to Steer Clear Of

Food and Alcohol: The 7 Combos To Avoid

Now that we know a bit about alcohol metabolism, let’s explore the top 7 categories of food that are likely to leave us feeling less than stellar if we plan to drink.

1. Salty Foods

“These pretzels are making me thirsty!” (And that beer will make it worse.)

You might remember the iconic line from Seinfeld when Kramer is shooting a bar scene in a Woody Allen movie. With a bit too much of his characteristic enthusiasm, he repeats, “These pretzels are making me thirsty!” Well, they do. Pretzels and other salty bar staples, such as salted peanuts or potato chips, aren’t quite as good of a match for that pint of beer as we might think.

The reason has to do with those water balance issues we mentioned earlier. Salt — as Kramer emphatically tells us — makes us thirsty, leading us to reach for that pitcher in the middle of the table to get one refill after another. The result? For one thing, we end up drinking more than we planned to. But we also make our thirst itself worse in the long run! While alcohol tricks us into believing we’re satisfying it, it actually dehydrates us, leaving us more parched than we were to begin with.

By the way, bars use this effect to their advantage! By keeping salty snacks within easy reach and offering them for free, they turn up our thirst, ensuring that we keep the tap (and our tab) running.

Finally, salt itself plays a role in the equation. Research shows that high salt intake causes our body to retain water, which enhances the dehydrating effects of alcohol.

2. Chocolate

“Hungry? Grab a Snickers!” (But leave the drink.)

Who doesn’t love chocolate? From whimsical Hershey’s Kisses to classic Godiva or creamy Lindt, there’s a bar, truffle, bark, or block out there for everyone. But even though the “wine and chocolate” combo is considered to be a date-night classic, the pairing isn’t a match made in heaven.

First of all, chocolate can irritate our stomach, causing acid reflux and other types of digestive discomfort. Alcohol can do the same, and the combination amps up the effect.

Moreover, the sugar in chocolate and the alcohol in our drink are both powerful dopamine boosters, leading to cravings. Combining the two intensifies the pleasure-seeking impulses that keep us coming back for more well after we’ve reached the limit we set for ourselves. 

3. Caffeine

“America runs on Dunkin’!” (Just don’t drink on it.) 

Caffeine and booze might seem like another match made in heaven (we might think it’ll help us party till the break of dawn), but the reality isn’t quite so rosy. There are a few reasons to avoid that after-dinner espresso or late-night Dunkin’ Donuts run if we’ve been drinking.

First of all, caffeine can have a “masking effect,” leading us to think we’re less intoxicated than we really are.

It can also strain the heart and add to alcohol-induced blood pressure and heart-rate fluctuations. Heavy alcohol use in particular heightens our risk of heart disease, and caffeine doesn’t help matters.

Finally, caffeine can cause dehydration, adding to the parching effects of alcohol. Our hangover in the morning might be that much stronger if we top off our night with a coffee or use an energy drink as a mixer. The same is true if we opt for an espresso martini or an Irish coffee as our drink of choice.

4. Beans and Lentils

“Beanz Meanz Heinz.” (But without the Heineken.)

Another food to leave off our plate for the time being? Beans and lentils— healthy sources of protein — don’t mix that well with booze. All that fiber and those complex carbohydrates (raffinose and stachyose in particular) is great for us, but can be tricky to digest. The carbs get fermented by bacteria in the large intestine, sometimes leading to gas and bloating, as many of us who love Mexican rice and beans or Indian chana masala know all too well. Combined with booze, these not-so-glamorous side effects can get more uncomfortable (for us and those in our vicinity). 

Moreover, digesting high-fiber foods calls for plenty of hydration. If we’re not drinking enough water throughout the night, our stomach will struggle even more.

5. Spicy Foods

“Some like it hot.” (Just don’t drink with it.)

Thinking of getting an order of hot wings or chili fries for the table? Might not be the best idea. Spicy foods can irritate the gastrointestinal tract, causing more of that digestive discomfort we talked about earlier. Alcohol can stoke the fire, irritating the GI tract and even causing gastritis.

6. Pizza With Tomato Sauce

“Get the door. It's Domino's.” (Unless it’s a drinking night.)

While a slice of pizza might be a party favorite for many (and beer and pizza is an iconic combo), it turns out that pizza — especially with marinara sauce — is not a great match for booze. Tomato-based products tend to be very acidic, contributing to stomach irritation and acid reflux exacerbated by alcohol. 

Moreover, delicious as it might be, that slice comes with a hefty number of calories. And when our liver is already tasked with digesting alcohol, adding a high-fat extra to its already full plate increases its workload, causing strain.

Last but not least, that delicious melted cheese can, unfortunately, make things even worse. While dairy products tend to coat the stomach, initially slowing alcohol absorption, they can also contribute to acid reflux and stomach discomfort when mixed with booze.

7. Foods With Added Sugar

“Sugar and spice and everything nice” (It isn’t so nice with a drink on the side).

While we covered the reasons why chocolate in particular isn’t a good match for alcohol, we should keep in mind that the same applies to other sugary foods as well. 

For one thing, just like caffeine, sugar can have a masking effect. Anything goes down more easily with a side of cinnamon twists or sprinkles on top, doesn’t it? When we snack on sweets that hide the taste of booze, we might end up drinking more than we planned.

Moreover, sugar speeds up alcohol absorption into the bloodstream, making the effects of alcohol more intense. Plus, as we already mentioned, that dopamine hit we get from sugar can intensify cravings for alcohol (as well as for more sweets), leading us to consume more than we planned as well as packing on unwanted weight if we’re not careful.

Worst Foods To Eat Before Drinking

Now that we have an idea of what foods to avoid having with alcohol in general, let’s get more specific. We might be wondering, what about before we head out for the night? Are there any foods to leave off the pre-party menu to avoid an unpleasant surprise later on? Here are the main ones to steer clear of.

  • Simple carbs. White bread, donuts, cookies: anything that’s quickly digested will lead to faster alcohol absorption, potentially making us more intoxicated and leaving us with a hangover the morning after.
  • Carbonated beverages. Those bubbles speed up alcohol absorption through the stomach lining.
  • Acidic or spicy foods. As we already mentioned, both of these up the risk of stomach discomfort while we’re drinking. The same is true if we have them before!

Best Foods To Eat Before Drinking

Are you curious what the best foods to eat before drinking are? Here are a few:

  • Complex carbs. Whole grains are high in fiber and give you lasting energy.
  • Protein. Lean meats or fish coat the stomach and slow digestion, keeping you from getting intoxicated quickly.
  • Fruits and veggies. A healthy helping of these will boost hydration and give you essential nutrients.

What Not To Eat After Drinking Alcohol

As for foods to avoid after drinking, the list is similar to the 7 foods we want to avoid while we’re drinking. But are any of them worse than others?

As it turns out, pizza takes the number one spot. It’s hard to digest and can make hangover symptoms worse. 

It’s also best to leave highly processed foods (such as sweets) off our plate. They are low in nutrients that we need to replenish the body. Plus, those salty snacks certainly won’t make dehydration any better and will potentially worsen our hangover

Tip: Should you eat after drinking alcohol? Absolutely! Having a nutritious breakfast the morning after can make a world of difference. Eggs are known for their cysteine content, which is helpful when it comes to breaking down the toxic hangover-inducing acetaldehyde. 

Another great option is oatmeal: oats are rich in nutrients and help neutralize acids, easing stomach discomfort and helping digestion. Add some bananas for extra credit! Rich in potassium and other nutrients, bananas will also help restore those lost electrolytes. Fermented foods, in turn, help restore balance in the gut, so try some yogurt, kefir, miso soup, or kimchi to smooth things over.

Summing Up

In the end, if our stomach isn’t happy, we’re not happy. As American novelist Charles Dudley Warner wondered, “How many wars have been caused by fits of indigestion?” Probably quite a few. Let’s not add to the number by choosing the wrong food and alcohol combination.

Better yet, why not skip the booze altogether and wake up full of energy, with a clear mind, and no indigestion in sight? If you’re thinking of cutting back or leaving alcohol behind, Reframe is here to make the journey easy, exciting, and fun!

Summary FAQs

1. What is the effect of food when you drink alcohol?

Certain foods can cause indigestion by irritating the stomach lining or delaying stomach emptying. Others can cause dehydration or contribute to cravings. 

2. Can eating chocolate while drinking really affect my mood and digestion?

Yes, chocolate contains substances that boost dopamine levels, which enhance mood and cravings. However, it also has caffeine and theobromine, which can stimulate your nervous system and increase heart rate. When paired with alcohol, these effects can cause acid reflux and other digestive discomfort, and intensify the urge to consume more alcohol and sweets.

3. Is it true that caffeine and alcohol are a bad combination?

Absolutely. Caffeine can mask the depressant effects of alcohol, making you feel less intoxicated than you really are. This can lead to drinking more alcohol than you can safely handle. Moreover, both caffeine and alcohol are diuretics, which can significantly increase dehydration and worsen hangover symptoms the next day.

4. Why should I avoid beans and lentils when drinking alcohol?

Beans and lentils are high in fiber and complex carbohydrates, which can be difficult to digest and may cause gas and bloating. Alcohol slows down digestion further, compounding these effects and potentially leading to uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms.

5. Why is pizza with marinara sauce a poor choice to eat with alcohol?

The acidity from the tomato-based marinara sauce combined with the high-fat content from the cheese can lead to increased stomach acid and slower digestion. Alcohol can exacerbate these effects, causing acid reflux and adding strain on your liver, which is already busy metabolizing alcohol.

6. Should you eat after drinking alcohol?

Eating after consuming alcohol is beneficial, particularly if you choose the right foods. Nutrient-rich foods like eggs, which contain cysteine, help break down hangover-inducing toxins, while oats help stabilize blood sugar and soothe your stomach. These foods help replenish lost nutrients and aid in the recovery process, potentially easing hangover symptoms.

Ready To Change Your Relationship With Alcohol and Leave Indigestion Behind?

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app today! 

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