Cocktails, cupcakes, salty potato chips, a big juicy cheeseburger. These things all taste pretty darn good as they pass through your lips, but what happens after they move on down the road? “No matter what you swallow, the mechanisms are the same: past the food pipe, through the esophagus, and into your stomach,” says Ira Breite, M.D., a clinical assistant professor in the division of gastroenterology at NYU Langone Medical Center. “But there are differences in how specific nutrients like proteins, carbs, and fats are absorbed,” he says.
Here’s what happens when some of your favorite guilty pleasures hit your belly, and how to take a healthier approach:
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Unlike just about everything else that you swallow, alcohol is actually absorbed directly by the stomach (the stomach essentially serves as a waiting room for everything you eat; nothing is processed and absorbed until after it reaches the small intestine). Once that glass of vino—or margarita
—hits your belly, any food there at that moment delays the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream, which is why you feel woozier faster if you’re drinking on an empty stomach. The higher the percentage of alcohol your cocktail contains, the longer it stays in your system and the drunker you feel. And if you’re a woman (or you are on the slim side), the longer it takes for your body to process the alcohol.
The Healthier Approach: Moderation—and slow consumption—is key. While on the whole it’s better to drink with food in your system, it won’t make you less drunk, Dr. Breite says. “Drink less or spread drinking out so your body has time to metabolize it. If you down five shots and a loaf of bread with it, you’ll just be really drunk and full of carbohydrates,” he says.