What’s the healthiest way to drink? Sadly, the answer is not to. But, since that wouldn’t be too fun, it’s essential to learn what to do before, during, and after drinking to prevent hangovers and beer bellies.

Our bodies interpret alcohol as toxic and the liver needs both time and water to get rid of it. And often our livers simply cannot keep up with our fast drinking pace. To process the toxin, the liver pulls water from all the organs, including the brain, leaving us dehydrated. When pairing alcohol with sugary mixers, our stomachs pull in extra water from around the body adding more fuel onto the dehydration fire and causing alcohol related runs, which are never too fun.

The good news is that some research indicated drinking in moderation can be heart healthy by lowering blood pressure, increasing blood flow, and increasing the HDL, or “good” cholesterol. The bad news is that “moderation” means 1 drink per day for women, 2 per day for men. One drink includes 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounce shot of hard liquor.

Drinking poses a triple threat to weight gain because alcohol itself, what it’s mixed and what is eaten after all have calories. Alcohol is calorically dense, meaning it has a lot of calories for a little amount. To compare, carbs and protein have 4 calories per gram, fat has 9 calories per gram and alcohol has 7 calories per gram. The calories in hard liquor depends on the proof, which refers to the percent alcohol by volume. So, higher proofs mean more alcohol and more calories. On average a 1.5 ounce shot of hard liquor has about 60-80 calories depending on the proof. And that’s before downing any chasers.

Before the Night Out

The key to preventing a hangover is hydration. Drink plenty of water the day of your big party. If plans are an after work happy hour, drink an extra 8 ounces of water at lunch and right before heading out.

Eating before regulates blood sugar levels, helping to avoid a large spike and drop, which is common while drinking. A perfect meal would be rich in lean protein (think turkey, chicken breast, fish) and whole grains and low on fat and salt (keep the fries and soy sauce in check). Fatty meals can lead to bloating and diarrhea, which alcohol does not help. Salty foods will make you thirsty, tempting you to drink quicker to quench your thirst.

Eleven Tips During the Night Out

1. Avoid premade mixes. They’re loaded with sugar, calories, and usually artificial coloring. Ask if the drinks are fresh or from a mix. A margarita made from a mix can run anywhere from 300 to 450 calories depending on the size.

2. Know where you’re ordering. Most sports bars use mixes. You’re more likely to get fresh drinks at restaurant bars.

3. Limit juice. Bars use juice from concentrate, which was dehydrated and then re-constituted with water, leaching out the vitamins and leaving essentially sugar water. When able, use fresh fruit juice or none at all. A vodka cranberry can run from 140 to 160 calories depending on the proof of the vodka.

4. Avoid caffeinated mixers like energy drinks or cola that will worsen dehydration.

5. Choose drinks with short ingredient lists. Long lists mean more calories and sugar.

6. Avoid cream based drinks. I’m talking to you Mai Thai, Pina Colada, Bailey’s Cream and White Russians. These guys can have over 500 calories and a fair amount of fat.

7. Add seltzer and ice to all drinks. This is a win-win tactic that will dilute the calories and hydrate. That’s why whiskey on the rocks is better than taking a shot. Vodka seltzer is a favorite, both hydrating and weighing in at only 60-80 calories. If it’s too harsh, throw in lime wedges or a splash of juice.

8. Ask for all drinks, especially mojitos, light on the sugar. To replace the sugar, ask for more tart or citrus. This won’t offend the bartender, restaurants are used to diet requests.

9. Simple syrup is fancy name for sugar. It’s half part sugar to half part warm water. It’s no better than refined white sugar.

10. Avoid tonic. Tonic is carbonated water with quinine (gives the bitter taste) and almost as much sugar and calories as soda. It is NOT equivalent to seltzer.

11. For every alcoholic drink ordered, have 1 glass of water. Alternating is key.

After the Night Out

Oh boy, this is where a day’s worth of food is eaten in one sitting. When sloppily coming home, first thing (after running to the bathroom) is drink 8 to 10 ounces of water. Leave a glass of water waiting for you. This may fight overeating because our bodies often misinterpret thirst for hunger. Don’t leave tempting foods staring you in the face. If you happened to bake a batch of cookies that morning, don’t keep them on the front table. Try to stock up on healthier snacks, like whole grain cereal, popcorn (kettle or lightly salted), pretzels, grapes, berries, rice cakes, frozen yogurt/sorbet, hummus and peanut butter. We often avoid lean leftovers, like a turkey sandwich or chicken to avoid the guilt of eating a whole other meal. But, it’s usually a way better choice than downing a bag of chips or tub of ice cream.

This post was written by guest contributor Nicole Brender, RD. The views and opinions expressed herein are hers. For more from Nicole, visit her site at Little Bites Nutrition and follower her on Twitter.

Find the Mango-Grapefruit Paloma recipe (pictured above) at Katie at the Kitchen Door.

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