Ask the Diet Doctor: Happy Hour Strategies

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Q: What are the best ways to approach happy hour so I don't get too buzzed too quickly?

A: When is comes to controlling your buzz, some factors are out of your control, but there are other things that are in your control that can help you minimize how tipsy you feel. Let's look at both.

Out of Your Control: Genetics

How quickly you feel your drinks is predominantly dependent on your genetics. Your genetics will determine the levels and function of your alcohol dehydrogenase enzymes and other enzymes responsible for the breakdown of alcohol. Unfortunately you can't get around any of these genetic predispositions, so it is important to recognize them and act accordingly.

People of Asian descent commonly experience flushing of their cheeks when drinking due to mutations in these alcohol-metabolizing enzymes. Research also shows that people of Native American descent metabolize alcohol very slowly and therefore feel a buzz sooner.

Aside from ethnic differences, women generally have lower levels of alcohol dehydrogenase, giving them a reduced capacity to metabolize alcohol compared to men.

Out of Your Control: Hormones

Estrogen can slow alcohol metabolism, decreasing the time it takes to feel tipsy. This is important to take into account if you are on hormone replacement therapy or estrogen-based birth control.

In Your Control: Food

Food is one of your best strategies for slowing the absorption of alcohol to blunt its peak in your bloodstream and thus reduce your buzz. Fat and protein are two nutrients that slow the emptying of your stomach. One of the most common sources of fat and protein at your local bar are nuts, which also contain fiber, another nutrient that slows the release of foods and drinks from your stomach. Always ask for a new bowl of nuts at the bar, as you don't know what kind of bacteria will be lurking in the current bowl. If you are more into drinking wine, cheese would be a more appropriate fat-protein food pairing. Other protein options often found at cocktail parties and happy hours are shrimp and smoked salmon, the latter also being high in fat.

In Your Control: Speed of Drinking

On average you can metabolize the alcohol of one drink in one hour (after two hours your blood alcohol levels will completely return to zero), so stick to that ratio. You can optimize this further by slightly diluting your drinks. This isn't possible with wine, but if you drink beer, opt for a light one. For a mixed drink, ask for some extra club soda to add in. This will dilute the alcohol content of your drink while increasing the volume, making your drink last longer and allowing you to maximize the social-time-to-buzzed ratio at the bar.

And don't forget: Despite how much you eat and how long you wait between drinks, after having a couple it is always better to take a cab or get a ride home with a non-drinking friend.

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