Sorry, but it's time to ditch the before-dinner aperitif. Not only is alcohol often super high in calories and sugar, but it may also cause you to overeat, finds a recent study in the journal Obesity.
Turns out that eating under the influence is bad news for your diet because alcohol affects the hypothalamus. This part of your brain is responsible for hormones that control everything from your body temperature to your hunger, thirst, sleep, and sex drive. When you drink, say the researchers, ghrelin levels dip, causing your body to go on a "must eat everything in sight" rampage to satisfy your hunger.
Luckily, there are a few ways you can still sip leisurely without going overboard on calories.
"The key is to find something that takes time to eat and will bring more attention to your hunger awareness," says Jessica Crandall, RD, a spokesperson with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Plus, certain foods are better than others when it comes to suppressing ghrelin, she notes. "Protein-rich foods paired with complex carbs are best to help you feel fuller--like a bowl of veggies paired with hummus."
Here are more nutritionist-approved ways to enjoy your cocktail without derailing your diet:
Smaller plates, bigger portions--or at least that's what your brain thinks. Using smaller plates or bowls, which make your ration of food look larger than it is, is an effective way to eat less, says Crandall. "Some studies report a reduction of 46 percent less calories when people use smaller plates."
Sip H2O between sips of your cocktail. "Alternating between water and alcohol helps prevent hunger by keeping you hydrated and slowing your pace," says Crandall. Bonus: The hydration wards off potential headaches and hangovers in the morning.
Stick to One Straw
Using two at a time might seem like a sophisticated way to sip a gin and tonic, but if you're sipping from a straw, it could cause you to drink too much too quickly. Better yet, go plastic-free and avoid straw altogether.
Oversimplify Your Mixers
"Simple syrups are riddled with sugar, which can cause you to just crave more sweet stuff," says Crandall. Swap drinks that contain syrups or high-calorie, sugar-added mixers for cocktails with sparkling water, tea, or a low-calorie fruit essence to help curb the amount of calories you ingest while drinking--and post happy hour.
Stay in the Clear
Translucent liquors and white wine or champagne often contain fewer added ingredients. Plus, they're less taxing on your liver. Clearer varieties of alcohol contain fewer congeners, a natural but slightly toxic by-product of the fermenting process most distilled liquors undergo.
Add an Edible Garnish
Prefer white wine? Plop a few green grapes or some blueberries in the freezer overnight. The next evening, add them to your glass of white wine. They chill your drink and provide a healthy snack you can sneakily indulge in between sips or once you've emptied your glass.