We’ve all been there: the lights slowly fade up, Semisonic plays over the speakers, and the bouncer one-by-one kicks every drunkard out of the local bar. It’s closing time and where are you going to go? Chances are you’re heading straight to the local pizza shop, according to new research published in the Californian Journal of Health Promotion.
A collaborative team of researchers across four North American universities set out to find what sort of drunk munchies – known as “drunchies” – college students were chowing down on, as well as how drinking affected their dietary decisions. According to lead researcher Jessica Kruger, the amount of blood glucose in the body can rise and fall after drinking, stimulating the brain to feel hungry.
Nearly 300 students at a midwestern public university completed an anonymous online survey with general questions about their diet. Later in the survey, participants were asked how often they ate something before bed after drinking alcohol and what they ate. They were also asked what they ate for their first meal following a night of binge drinking.
Kruger says all alcohol drinkers were more likely to eat something salty, fatty, or unhealthy before they went to bed. Naturally, pizza took precedence over greens and other vegetables they would normally eat. On the other hand, they were less likely to drink water, which could worsen the effects of dehydration.
As for the next day, participants reported being less likely to skip meals the morning after and favored junk food over traditional healthy breakfast options, possibly from common misconceptions about how to get over a hangover.
"Salt is essential to living, too much salt could kill you, but our bodies need it to survive," Kruger told IFLScience. "We did not explore the biological mechanisms of this, but it could be due to some of the 'hangover cures' or the availability of salty foods while drinking."
With as much as 65 percent of US college students reporting they regularly drink alcohol, Kruger says it is important to understand how drinking impacts diet, particularly as obesity continues to rise across the country. Considering the average beer contains around 150 calories, eating unhealthy foods while binge drinking could have unintended consequences.
"Weight gain is one longer-term unhealthy outcome associated with frequent alcohol consumption. Although alcohol is not a nutrient, it yields seven kilocalories for every gram consumed," said Kruger, who is a clinical assistant professor at the University of Buffalo. "Consequently, alcoholic beverages are a source of empty calories, as they offer significant energy without offering nutritional value. On top of the empty calories from alcohol, students are also eating unhealthy foods which increases the overall calories consumed and can lead to obesity."
Because it's easier to find a slice of pizza after the bars close than a salad, Kruger says her team’s research should incentivize universities to encourage healthy eating at all times of the day/night, as well as to help students understand the effects of alcohol on their bodies as a way to promote a healthy diet.
Researchers did not document what types of food were consumed during the study, and reports could be subject to recall bias. It should also be noted that the majority of participants were underage and some could have been unwilling to acknowledge underage drinking despite responses being anonymous.