Drinking Alcohol With Meals Slows Digestion

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THE GIST

- Drinking alcohol with a rich meal slows digestion by as much as 50 percent.

- By slowing digestion, alcohol can also make you feel fuller longer, though it's not clear what that means for nutrient absorption or weight gain.

- If you are prone to stomach distress, it might be best to go with water or tea instead.

For many people, a glass of wine helps make food feel like it's going down more smoothly. But drinking alcohol with a rich and fatty meal causes food to linger in the stomach longer, found a new study -- leading people to feel fuller over a greater period of time.

The findings offer new insight into the complicated and multi-faceted ways that alcohol interacts with digestion and appetite. The study, which analyzed people as they ate cheese fondue, may also help settle a long-standing debate among Europeans about which beverage is best to drink with a popular and festive dish.

"In Switzerland and other parts of Europe, there is a big debate when families get together about what they are going to drink with fondue," said Mark Fox, a gastroenterologist at the Nottingham Digestive Diseases Center in the United Kingdom. He worked on the study while at the University of Zurich.

"Half say you should drink white wine because it dissolves the cheese," he said. "The other half says you should drink warm tea because wine turns the cheese into a solid mass. All are completely old wives' tales."

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Fondue-lovers also argue about whether a shot of spirits after the meal will further reduce the discomforts of eating such a rich and gooey dinner.

Previous studies have shown that drinking an alcoholic beverage before a meal increases appetite and causes people to eat a bit more than they would otherwise.

To find out how drinking during and after a meal might add to the story, Fox and colleagues fed a meal of bread and Swiss cheese fondue to 20 healthy adults who hadn't eaten anything for six hours beforehand.

Half of the diners were assigned to sip about 10 ounces of white wine at regular intervals throughout the meal. The other half drank the same volume of black tea at the same intervals. Both groups ate equal amounts of bread and fondue, which was made with Gruyere and Fribourgeois cheeses. The meal contained about 780 calories, 52 grams of protein, 150 milligrams of sodium and 64 grams of fat.