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Hydration: your key to surviving end-of-year parties

If your calendar is filling up with festive functions that threaten your healthy eating plan, fear not. Here's a three-step guide to surviving end-of-year celebrations. (Hint: it's got a lot to do with water.)

One small thing: Have a glass of water between each alcoholic drink – it's the dehydrating effect of alcohol that causes hangovers.

The end-of-year party circuit is generally not kind to the body – with the eating, drinking and late-night merry-making, it's often hard to maintain a healthy lifestyle. But – glad tidings – there are survival measures you can put in place to safeguard your health.

1. Before you go out

Don't drink on an empty stomach. "Eat a combination of complex carbohydrates and protein – such as a low-GI cheese sandwich – before going out," suggests dietitian Kelly Lynch.

There's a theory that milk thistle can boost liver function. "Protecting your liver is one of the most important steps you can take if you're going to be overindulging," says Lynette Martin, vitamin advisor at PnP Pharmacy Claremont.

"Alcohol, rich food and lack of sleep all add to your liver's workload, so start taking milk thistle a day or two before big events," she suggests.

2. During the evening

Drink plenty of water. "It's important to stay hydrated ," says Martin, "as it's the dehydrating effect of alcohol that causes hangovers." It's a good idea to have a glass of water between drinks. Most hangovers occur after five drinks for men and three drinks for women, research finds, so stay under that limit to avoid paying the price the next day.

Avoid kilojoule-laden drinks. "A white-wine spritzer has half the kilojoules of wine and is a better choice than beer," says Lynch. "And avoid shooters, especially those with liqueurs, as they're loaded with sugar."

3. At the end of the evening

Drink a large glass of water when you get home to prevent a headache the next day. Tempting as it may be, a greasy fry-up isn't the way to remedy a hangover.

"Too much fat puts more pressure on the liver," says Lynch. Your best anti-hangover bet is a vitamin-rich fresh fruit salad or berries with oats or muesli.

Go easy on coffee, tea and carbonated cola drinks the next day, as they all contain caffeine, which also has to be broken down by the liver. Instead, opt for herbal tea – especially rooibos – which is rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants help protect the body against harmful particles known as free radicals, which are likely to be in abundance after a big night out.

If you do wake up with a hangover, an oral rehydration solution (such as Rehidrat) can help rebalance your electrolytes and will speed up rehydration.

You can also take a hike (later). Exercise stimulates circulation, digestion and your metabolism, and also encourages feel-good endorphins to charge through your body. Get active once you have recovered and rehydrated.

The truth is, there's no proven cure for a hangover (even after researchers tested every theory proposed since 1950, including prickly-pear pills, hair of the dog, and the "red ambulance" in reference to Coca-Cola), so the best advice is to arm yourself with the above-mentioned protective strategies, then go easy and know your limits.

And what if you haven't done any pre-party prepping and want to avoid waking up with a hangover? "Consuming too many alcoholic drinks of any kind is never a good idea, but drinks that contain more congeners [colourants and flavourants], such as bourbon, scotch, tequila, brandy, red wine and dark or high-alcohol beers, are more likely to cause a hangover," says registered dietitian Teresa Harris. So, try to avoid these on the night.


If you have a question for our dietitians, click here, or to find a dietitian in your area, visit adsa.org.za. To get in touch with us, email healthhotline@pnp.co.za.