Stupid Question ™
Sept. 10, 1998
By John Ruch
Q: Why do you crave salty or greasy foods after a drinking binge?
A: Probably for several interrelated reasons, all of which can be summarized as: “Because alcohol is bad for you, boys and girls.”
One thing you already know is that drinking alcohol makes you urinate. But “you’re not just peeing out the beer, you’re peeing out more than the beer,” said Dr. Harrison Weed of the Ohio State University Medical Center.
Alcohol inhibits the production of the hormone that regulates urine production, making you urinate more than necessary. You start to dehydrate—peeing away essential levels of body water and salt.
“The craving for salt is a natural craving after any dehydrating experience,” said Paul Coleman, president of Columbus, Ohio’s Maryhaven addiction recovery center. This might lead you to salty snacks (which are usually greasy as well).
Weed points out that humans have deep desires for salt and fat—good sources of sodium and calories, respectively, that are hard to find in nature and would have been treasures to our ancient ancestors. Now that salt and fat are available in snack foods in harmfully high doses, we have to will ourselves away from them.
Alcohol reduces such inhibitions, magnifies desire and can distort the body’s sense of satiety. It also irritates the digestive tract and stimulates the flow of gastric juices, which can provoke a false feeling of hunger. All these factors combined can make you give in to pre-existing junk-food cravings. Booze is a renowned diet-buster.
And you probably have plenty of junk food spread before you to crave. “Raw carrot sticks, celery and other vegetables are not the usual snacks served with drinks!” point out the authors of the book “Understanding Alcohol.” Instead, high-fat foods like nuts, chips and cheeses are usually served with booze because alcohol, which is not fat-soluble, is slowed down by fat in the bloodstream. The fat delays alcohol’s psychological effects, allowing (or forcing) you to drink more.
Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, could also make you crave food after drinking if your diet is poor. When glucose—the food-derived sugar that the body uses for energy—is in short supply, the liver will make some from fats and proteins. But if there’s alcohol in your system, the liver will ignore glucose production and set to work flushing out the booze instead. Your blood sugar can drop dangerously.
Otherwise healthy people can become hypoglycemic if they’ve been drinking heavily and eating little for 48 to 72 hours. (Dieters are prime candidates.) If you’re surprised to find yourself “drunk” on your first drink, it may be from an energy-starved brain rather than an alcohol high.
All this trouble is best avoided by drinking little or no booze, eating well and setting out only healthy snacks. Or you could just nail a Crisco-covered salt lick to the arm of your La-Z-Boy. Cheers.