We all know that alcohol contains sugar – something we need to avoid if you’re on a diet. But drinking alcohol, already high in calories, also makes you hungry, hence the success of the late-night kebab and offal shop…
A pint of beer contains about 200 calories, a glass of red wine, 160 calories, and a glass of white, as many as 350.
Carefully conducted research has shown that even people who had unknowingly ingested alcohol would end up feeling more hungry and eating more within three hours.
There’s a reason restaurants offer aperitifs before dinner – it’s to stimulate your appetite and the practice can be traced back as far as the 5th century.
It seems that the ‘aperitif effect’ makes you feel hungrier than you really are. A glass of wine before dinner will lead inevitably to the merciless demolition of a large slice of cheesecake after dinner. This has nothing to do with overindulgence – it’s because alcohol tricks your brain into starvation mode. According to a study at London’s Francis Crick Institute, the ethanol in alcohol fires up AgRP neurons in the brain normally activated by starvation, thereby inducing feelings of hunger.
Other studies have confirmed the paradox that alcohol intake stimulates eating, and also correlates with obesity.
Paradoxically, alcohol is the second most calorific nutrient after fat, but instead of filling you up, it has the opposite effect. How unfair is that? What is the evolutionary advantage? Could it be that the effect is merely hedonic hunger, where someone eats for pleasure rather than nourishment?
To put this in perspective, just a little alcohol (say, half a pint of beer) won’t give you the raging munchies – but two pints will interfere with your ability to regulate your food intake sensibly. With some individuals, the drive to eat can go beyond what is reasonable, which is probably why that fry-up looks so good after a few pints.
It is possible that because alcohol reduces our inhibitions, we’re more relaxed about what we eat. The health conscious part of our brain seems to lose all self-control – the result is that all ideas of staying trim fly out of the window.
But this cannot be the whole story. Researchers from Sussex have come up with what they believe to be an answer – alcohol directly interferes with appetite control because after alcohol, food looks more appetising!
The researchers have discovered that carefully controlling the food and alcohol intake of a group of volunteers, there were other, psychological factors coming into play. It could well be that a person’s past experiences of alcohol and food affect what they will eat after a drink. For instance, a person who normally heads to the nearest Indian for a curry after a couple of beers is more than likely to do the same – even if they have been drinking non-alcoholic beer!
This makes complete sense because humans are creatures of habit and prefer to stick with what is comfortable and familiar. It doesn’t matter how revolting that kebab turning in the window may look in daylight, it’s going to seem mouth-wateringly delicious after a night on the piss.
Copyright Andrew Newton 2016. All rights reserved.