Sane Consumption

TIMEDecember 3, 2021

Year-end parties usually are liquid-y, so even before we reach the height of the celebratory season, which includes Christmas and New Year’s Eve, a bit of planning may avoid hangovers—and could well be a life-saving tactic.

The suggestions that follow may sound like wet-blanket advice, but anyone who has ever suffered the worst after-effects of a night of boozing and regretted it knows what I’m talking about. A few precautions can do wonders.

And then the morning after, it’s distinctly possible to escape searching for hangover cures, painkillers, and an old spouse’s remedies like hair o’ the canine. Most of which don’t work and can have their own side effects.

Let’s clear up one thing now: Mixing drinks is not a cause of intoxication. It is a result of over-consumption of alcohol, regardless of what kind it is.

Since we’re all different, the degree of intoxication is related to various factors including body size, the length of time the ingestion lasted (many hours versus a few minutes), the kind and strength of alcohol consumed, and the sorts of foods consumed.

It’s been shown in laboratory studies that blood alcohol levels are reduced in persons who consume carbohydrates over other similar drinkers.

Ingesting carbs appears to slow the movement of alcohol into the bloodstream.

Test subjects who ate carbs were compared with groups of fasting drinkers and those who ate protein-based meals. All test subjects received carefully measured doses of alcohol. The carb consumers had lower blood-alcohol levels than either of the other groups.

(Impairment also was tested, and there appears to be little impairment difference between carb and protein eaters and those who fasted.)

This explains why a friend, decades ago, told me to eat a potato and white bread before going to parties where a lot of alcoholic drinks would be served. (Thus, a plate of pasta, or foods using flour help to create a buffering effect.)

Moreover, the body dislikes large amounts of alcohol being ingested in short periods of time, so guzzling contests are a formula for disaster. Slowly sipped lower-alcohol beverages, such as beer (6 to 10 percent) and wine (10 to 14 percent) are far easier for the body to deal with than, say, 40 percent ABV whisky.

Avoiding alcohol completely is a certain way to avoid a hangover. And for some people, such as those on certain medications, even moderate alcohol consumption can be risky.

One good rule of thumb for alcoholic beverage consumers that’s not only accurate but simple to include in most festivities is to consume one six-ounce glass of water for every glass of alcoholic beverage consumed.

As for what constitutes the size of a “glass” of an alcoholic beverage, there’s much debate. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) lists a standard 12-ounce beer as one drink—if that beer has 5 percent alcohol.

However, most beers today have between 5.5 percent and 7.5 percent alcohol, and many craft beers, such as traditional IPAs, start at 7 percent and many range close to 10 percent alcohol. Specialty beers can go even higher.

As for wine, the NIAAA chart lists a standard glass as five ounces. However, many restaurants pour six-ounce glasses. And the agency’s chart says a standard wine has 12 percent alcohol—but that hasn’t been true for more than 40 years! I estimate the average alcoholic content of most domestic white wines today is about 14 percent, and most reds are about 15 percent!

(Alcohols in European wines are typically lower.)

Also, be cognizant of the kinds of wines or beers that are being served. Some excellent German rieslings weigh in at 7 percent or 8 percent alcohol. Compare that with many of today’s heavier red wines at 15 percent to 17 percent alcohol.

In such cases, riesling is a better option. It’s usually easy to sip and works well with the multitude of flavors find in various hors d’oeuvres.

Wine of the Week

2020 Vinho Verde, Portugal (about $15 or less): This light, simple, refreshing white wine is imported by several producers.

Some are $20 or more, but most Vinho Verdes sell for half that, and a few sell for less than $10. This light, delicate wine is a blend of local Portuguese grapes and it’s appealing because it almost never has more than 10 percent alcohol. In the past I recommended a wine from importer Bartholomew Broadbent, with his last name on the label, but I couldn’t find a bottle in time to suggest for this column. It’s usually excellent and worth looking for.

Dan Berger
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