10 booze-friendly tips that will help you drink a little bit healthier this year
2 JANUARY 2020
In the fourth installment of our series on 100 Health Hacks For 2020, we look at what you should do before, during, and after a night out, so you can drink alcohol without harming your health
All the tips and tricks suggested in the series are inspired by Telegraph 365+1, our daily health newsletter that offers small ideas that can make a big change to your life. Click here to sign up.
- What to eat before a night out
Drinking on an empty stomach is a bad idea. You know it, we know it, pretty much anyone over the age of 30 who does a 9-5 job knows it. And yet we all barrel merrily down to the pub straight after work with nothing more than a 4pm cup of tea and a sneaky Snickers in our stomachs.
The problem is that alcohol defuses through the walls of the stomach very quickly. The less is in there, the faster the booze will enter your blood stream. From a social point of view, you’ll feel its effects much quicker. From a physiological point of view, the faster it is absorbed into your body, the bigger impact it has upon your liver, digestive system, kidneys, and cardiovascular system.
The best choice of food before a night out is something that has a natural fat content, which helps slow down the rate at which food leaves the stomach. The longer food stays in your stomach, the slower the alcohol gets absorbed into your bloodstream.
This doesn’t mean burgers (sorry), but rather food like salmon and avocados. Combine the two in a wrap with some mayonnaise and you have a good pre-pub, desk-based meal that will hopefully help you avoid a hangover the next day.
- The two and five rule for healthier drinking
Max Lowery, Instagram fitness star and author of The 2 Meal Day, has an easy to remember tip for keeping control of your alcohol, week in week out. It’s called the two and five rule: you have no more than two drinks on any given evening, and no more than five drinks in a week (so just under the recommended limit of 14 units).
If you’re out with friends, fill in the gaps between your two drinks with a soft alternative, like soda water and fresh lime, “which is much more interesting than drinking water” says Lowery. Plus it mimics an alcoholic drink, so you’ll still enjoy the sense of ceremony around drinking something other than water.
Finally, allow yourself to choose good quality booze as a reward for your controlled consumption. You’ll be more tempted to sip and savour it, rather than gulp and regret.
- Listen to your inner stop button
If Lowery’s tip about sticking to two drinks during an evening out sounds difficult, then Rosamund Dean, author of Mindful Drinking: How To Break Up With Alcohol, has a trick for learning when to say no: “I remind myself that the difference between two drinks and four drinks is the difference between ‘nicely tipsy’ and ‘slurring queasily’.”
“Research has shown that the simple act of monitoring your behaviour helps regulate it. So if you want to lose weight, keep a food diary that includes alcoholic drinks. If you want to save money, keep track of your spending. I keep track of everything I drink in the Drinkaware app and seeing the units stack up is an incentive to cut back.”
If all else fails, think about tomorrow. Sometimes just picturing your children crawling over you at 5am, or the chores you’ve got to do this weekend, is enough to make you slow down.
- Stock up on low-alcohol beers (they’re better than ever)
With people increasingly looking to cut down on alcohol intake, low-alcohol beers are having a moment in the spotlight.
“It’s definitely an emerging trend,” says beer writer Adrian Tierney-Jones. “I’m certainly not tired of strong beers, but I do think drinkers, especially younger ones, want a choice across the whole spectrum.”
At the Small Beer Brew Co all beers are between one and 2.7 per cent, which, as co-founder Felix James explains, falls below the diuretic limit, meaning you’re hydrating as you drink it. Does that mean getting drunk is off the cards? “Oh no, you definitely can still get drunk.” But James suggests you’re more likely to remain at that “two-pint feeling”.
- Try a healthy Old Fashioned
This is a remarkably delicious, alcohol-free version of a simple whisky cocktail. Angostura bitters are alcoholic – but barely, as you are using such a small amount. Replace with non-alcoholic bitters if preferred.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Strip of lemon peel, pith removed
50ml non-alcoholic distilled spirit, such as Seedlip
½ tsp caramel syrup
2 drops Angostura bitters (or use non-alcoholic bitters)
— Half-fill a whisky tumbler with ice. Gently bash the lemon peel with a muddler to release the oil.
— Pour the remaining ingredients into the glass, add the strip of lemon peel and stir.
Recipe from ‘ How to Be Sober and Keep Your Friends ‘, by Flic Everett (Quadrille, £12.99). Order your copy from books.telegraph.co.uk
- How to have a healthy takeaway
The good news is that there are some positive fast-food options available if you’re caught short at 11pm after a night in the pub (where you’ve only had two drinks. Ahem). Believe it or not, one of the best comes from the kebab shop – the scene of so many late night health crimes.
Steer your eyes away from the rotating chunk of doner meat at the back of the shop and look instead towards the skewers of chicken on the counter. Grilled, and sat atop salad but not pitta bread (you don’t need its refined white carbs), the chicken presents a surprisingly healthy choice. The meat will give your liver a good supply of amino acids that are used to metabolise and remove alcohol, while the salad will supply a timely vitamin boost.
Wash it all down with some water (it’ll help ameliorate tomorrow morning’s headache) and you might just leave the kebab shop in a better state than when you entered.
- Why you shouldn’t brush your teeth after a night out
There are few things worse than the furry feeling on your teeth the morning after a night out. No matter how much you brush your teeth when you get home, you still wake up with a mouth that’s dry and unpleasant.
Why? Well it turns out we’ve been doing it wrong all this time. When you stumble home from ‘a quick drink after work’ (which turned into a bottle of wine) you shouldn’t reach for your toothbrush at all.
“It’s best to brush your teeth before you go out because most alcoholic drinks are acidic,” explains Dr Toby Edwards-Lunn, a dental practitioner at West Terrace Dental Practice in Eastbourne.
“If you then come home and brush your teeth after drinking alcohol, you will have softened the outer enamel of your teeth and then you’re likely to brush it away.”
Enamel is a hard coating that has the important function of protecting your teeth. If this breaks down, you leave your teeth vulnerable – and this can cause sensitivity.
Rather than brushing your teeth after a night out, therefore, Dr Edwards-Lunn recommends swilling a little mouthwash instead.
- The best painkiller to take when hungover
How do you lessen a hangover? “The usual things, like spreading out your drinking and having a glass of water in between alcoholic drinks helps,” says Professor David Nutt, a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, who has been studying hangovers for the last year, and is publishing a book on alcohol (called Drink?) this month.
“We don’t really know how to cure hangovers because despite the fact they cost the economy billions of pounds, they’re vastly under-researched and not very well understood,” says Prof Nutt.
One tip he does have, however, is to take ibuprofen over paracetamol: “Alcohol causes inflammation in the body, especially the brain. So take an ibuprofen rather than a paracetamol. Ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory drug, so as well as relieving pain it will also reduce alcohol-induced inflammation, which may help take the edge off your symptoms.”
- How to recover from a blow out
What do you do if two drinks became six, and you had a kebab and chips on your way home? While it may be tempting to loll about on the sofa with Netflix for the day, knowledgeable voices recommend otherwise. “The science suggests that when the wheels have come off, your body is in a really well-fuelled state,” says elite sports nutritionist James Collins, author of The Energy Plan: Eat Smart, Feel Strong, Perform at Your Peak.
On a typical night out, you’ll ingest a lot of calorie-heavy alcohol and carb-heavy food. So as much as you might not fancy it the next day, going for a run or a cycle will give your body the opportunity to burn off all that energy. “Use it as a positive,” says Collins. “Go and expend that fuel.”
And what if you don’t? Stay on the couch, and you’re more likely to turn all the excess energy into fat. That fleeting hangover just became a lasting health negative.
- How to avoid Prosecco smile
“The so-called ‘Prosecco smile’ is the beginning of tooth decay, which starts with a white line below the gum and can require fillings and possibly further dental work,” warns leading London dentist Dr Richard Marques. “Bubbles are well known for eroding tooth enamel due to their high concentration of carbonic, phosphoric, malic, citric and tartaric acids, which literally ‘melt’ the enamel.
“Enamel is hardy, but since it’s not living tissue, it cannot be naturally regenerated – so you need to look after it.”
Consider the Prosecco bubble well and truly burst. So, what can we fizz lovers do?
“Since sweeter-tasting Prosecco has more sugar per glass on average than Champagne, it’s a good excuse to opt for the posh stuff if you can,” says Marques. “There is around one teaspoon of sugar for each glass of Prosecco, compared to 1/2 a teaspoon of sugar for each glass of Champagne.” Hurrah!
Marques has two final tips. First, wait at least one hour after a glass before brushing your teeth. And second, try drinking through a straw, which causes less damage to the teeth (although, fair warning: that might get you drunk quicker. And it’s not a great look at staff Christmas parties.)