Q: Does eating food prior to consuming wine slow or reduce the effects of alcohol? —Ned D., Washington D.C.
A: How we metabolize alcohol comes down to a group of enzymes called alcohol dehydrogenases (ADH). These enzymes break down alcohol into other compounds that can be removed from the body. Most ingested alcohol is broken down in the liver, where the majority of the body's ADH comes from. But about 15 percent of our ADH is found in the stomach lining, which means that your stomach can give your liver a head start—if you let it. On an empty stomach, alcoholic beverages are passed quickly on to the intestines, where alcohol continues to be absorbed into the bloodstream. However, when food is present in the stomach, gastric emptying is slowed down by digestion, which gives the stomach lining's ADH time to do its thing, easing the load on your liver.
Foods that take longer to digest are best for slowing down gastric emptying and giving the stomach lining more time to chip away at whatever alcohol you've consumed. Unfortunately, they also tend to be on the unhealthy side, like cheeses, cured meats and processed foods. As always, the best way to enjoy a few adult beverages is in moderation.