It’s one of those mornings: Last night was a crazy one and getting out of bed feels tougher than climbing out of a subterranean pit. Old-school wisdom preaches reaching for cold pizza or a greasy bacon sandwich, but wait—some foods are scientifically proven to help cure a hangover! Read on to learn which foods can alleviate post-party symptoms and which should be avoided like that plastic cup full of last night’s beer.
The Wrath of Grapes
First thing's first, let’s talk science. Typical hangover symptoms—nausea, sensitivity to light, headache, achy muscles, diarrhea, and decreased motor skills—are all caused by changes in body chemistry, including hormones, chemical reactions within the body, and the toxic chemicals in alcohol. The alcohol hangover. Wiese JG, Shlipak MG, Browner WS. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2000, Jun.;132(11):0003-4819.
The science of hangovers (and how to prevent them) is largely unstudied, which is why people have been inventing their own “cures” for centuries. Though no one meal or drink can cure a hangover, certain foods are better for refueling than others. After waking up with a pounding head, aim to restock the body with necessary fluids and nutrients like fructose, vitamins, animo acids, and minerals that can help break down toxins or lessen the body’s negative reaction to the chemicals in booze.
Drinks That Help
The elixir of life should be your no. 1 priority after waking up with a pounding head. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it pushes liquids out of the body. When nothing’s left in the tank, the body will draw water from any available source, including the brain—hello, headache. Drinking some H20 before heading to bed can help prevent some painful hangover symptoms, but grabbing the water bottle in the morning doesn’t hurt either.
Sports Drinks, Coconut Water, or Pedialyte
Sugary sports drinks can do a workout more harm than good, but such is not the case with a killer hangover. Reach for a Gatorade or similar beverage to restore liquids and electrolytes stat. Or pop open a box of coconut water, which has five of the electrolytes found in human blood, while most sports drinks only have two. Finally, one more cure that's garnered a cult following: Pedialyte, a drink intended for dehydrated children, provides even more sodium and potassium than Gatoride, for far fewer calories.
Ginger or Peppermint Tea
For a soothing brew, look no further than your favorite herbal tea. Studies show that ginger tea may reduce nausea and motion sickness. Effects of ginger on motion sickness and gastric slow-wave dysrhythmias induced by circular vection. Lien HC, Sun WM, Chen YH. American journal of physiology. Gastrointestinal and liver physiology, 2003, Mar.;284(3):0193-1857. Peppermint tea (a common morning sickness cure for pregnant ladies) may also ease stomach pain and decrease nausea. Herbal remedies for dyspepsia: peppermint seems effective. . Prescrire international, 2008, Aug.;17(95):1167-7422.
Pour a glass of apple or cranberry juice (just stay away from OJ—more on that later) to kick start the recovery process. The fructose in sweet fruity drinks gives the body some instant energy, and juice also contains vitamins and plenty of water to help rehydrate the body.
This hangover remedy is weird, but sources swear it works! The sour liquid contains vinegar, salt, and water, which can help rehydrate and replenish electrolyte and sodium levels. To make the most of it, sip two ounces (measure it out in a standard shotglass) before hitting the bars and another two ounces in the morning.
While waking up with zero energy sounds like the perfect time for a cup of Joe, it actually could worsen that headache, since caffeine is a mild diuretic. Still, if you drink java daily, stick with your habit: The liquid in coffee can help rehydrate your body, and it does give you a little boost of energy. Plus, a study showed that the combo of caffeine and over-the-counter inflammatory drugs (like Advil or aspirin) may help counteract the head-pounding effects of a hangover.
Foods That Help
This breakfast staple is a brunch all-star for a reason. Eggs are chock full of hardworking amino acids like cysteine and taurine. Taurine boosts liver function and may help prevent liver disease. Taurine and liver diseases: a focus on the heterogeneous protective properties of taurine. Miyazaki T, Matsuzaki Y. Amino acids, 2012, Aug.;46(1):1438-2199. Cysteine breaks down acetaldehyde, the yucky headache-causing chemical that’s left over when the liver breaks down ethanol.
Bananas, Dates, and Leafy Greens
These brightly colored foods contain potassium, an important electrolyte that is often depleted due to alcohol’s diuretic effect. Not feeling a salad first thing in the morning? Add some yogurt (which contains even more potassium) and blend these bad boys into a hangover-fighting smoothie.
Chicken Noodle Soup
Sushi is the last thing most people want to eat with a hangover, but there’s no reason to eschew all Japanese food. Like traditional chicken noodle, miso soup is a great morning-after remedy—the broth rehydrates and restocks sodium levels while the fermented miso can help aid digestion. Traditional healthful fermented products of Japan. Murooka Y, Yamshita M. Journal of industrial microbiology & biotechnology, 2008, May.;35(8):1367-5435.
Crackers or Toast with Honey
Since crackers can be loaded with preservatives, pick a healthier option like Wasa or a 100-percent whole-wheat variety. Crackers and whole-wheat toast are both bland carbs that raise low blood sugar, without upsetting the stomach. Add a drizzle of fructose-laden honey for even more instant energy. Just remember to follow it with some protein later in the day to offset the blood-sugar surge.
Take this superfood for a spin when you’re feeling less than stellar in the morning. A hot bowl of oatmeal has plenty of essential nutrients like B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, and iron. Plus oats can help neutralize acids in the body and raise blood sugar levels, giving you an instant energy boost.
Food and Drinks to Avoid
Contrary to popular knowledge, heading to the local greasy spoon is not a great idea. Turns out, a large, fatty meal is better at preventing a hangover than curing one, since fried foods can irritate the stomach. But, chowing down on a big burger before the liquor starts flowing can help insulate the stomach, preventing alcohol from being absorbed into the stomach lining and bloodstream. Observations on the relation between alcohol absorption and the rate of gastric emptying. S Holt. Can Med Assoc J. 1981 February 1;124(3):267-77.
Hair of the Dog
This wacky expression comes from a Norwegian folk saying that claims the best cure incorporates the substance that did the damage in the first place. Scandinavian wisdom aside, boozing in the morning is not the solution to a hangover. An alcoholic beverage can help take the edge off in the morning, but it will further dehydrate the body and lead to even worse hangover symptoms later in the day.
Lay off the OJ after a night on the town. Sour citrus like orange and grapefruit can irritate an already sensitive stomach. Also, skip tomato juice—it is also acidic, making a Bloody Mary at brunch probably the worst choice for a hungover morning.
Originally published January 2013. Updated December 2015.