You spent the night double-fisting margaritas, and the resulting hangover is as expected: Completely and utterly merciless. Your brain is yearning for painkillers, your throat is thirsting for water and your stomach is hungering for a triple meat breakfast sandwich deluxe from the nearest fast food establishment.
Of course, craving greasy food is a common hangover symptom, albeit one that rarely (aka, never) has our best interest in mind. So to help everyone make better hungover choices, I asked Dana Hunnes, senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, to help me rank popular hangover breakfasts by how healthy they are — from surprisingly healthy to absolute crap-burger.
First, though, I want to mention that I already ranked popular hangover remedies by how effective they are, while today, we’ll be focusing specifically on how healthy these hangover breakfasts are. That said, it’s worth noting that healthier choices tend to soothe hangover symptoms, and vice versa. In fact, Hunnes says opting for a breakfast that battles the main causes of your hangover — dehydration and low blood sugar — is probably the healthiest choice in that moment.
With that in mind, let’s rank us some hangover breakfasts…
1) Sports Drinks: Sure, sports drinks aren’t exactly breakfast. But when you’re so hungover that the thought of eating solid food makes you want to throw up literally everywhere, a sports drink does the trick. “It will improve your hydration and blood sugar status,” Hunnes says, which again, is what your body needs in those early hungover moments.
In fact, there’s some science suggesting electrolyte-heavy drinks are at least as effective as water when it comes to reducing hangover symptoms. Now, Hunnes admits that sports drinks alone will inevitably leave you feeling hungry, so you might want to combine this with some of the following breakfast options.
2) Bagel and Cream Cheese or Toast and Jam (Tied): Similar to sports drinks, these lighter breakfasts are ideal when your stomach feels like the bottom of a radioactive swamp. “These would help with satiation and the blood sugar issue, although I definitely recommend having them with a tall glass of water,” Hunnes says.
As for the cream cheese on that bagel, Hunnes recommends opting for a plant-based version, which will almost certainly have fewer calories and heart-busting saturated fats. Plus, animal-based cream cheeses contain the potential tumor-promoting animal protein casein.
You can make these even healthier by opting for whole-grain (read: Not white) bagels and toast. As nutritionist David Friedman, author of Food Sanity: How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction, previously explained, “[Whole grain is] loaded with fiber, healthy plant-based protein, vitamins, minerals and a variety of phytochemicals that help to improve digestion, reduce inflammation and lower cholesterol. Whole-grain bread also contains lactic acid, which promotes the growth of ‘good bacteria’ in the intestines.”
4) French Toast and Pancakes (Tied): French toast and pancakes have a bad reputation, but they’re basically just bread and eggs, neither of which are intrinsically unhealthy, especially when you choose whole-grain bread (or flour). However, Hunnes recommends going easy on the maple syrup. “Too much sugar can make you sick to your stomach,” she explains. Plus, a sugar-laden diet is associated with all kinds of ailments, from heart disease to depression.
6) Breakfast Burrito: Hunnes says a big breakfast burrito can be healthy or unhealthy, depending on the filling. “When it’s mostly vegetarian, a breakfast burrito can provide some nice antioxidants and fiber from the vegetables, as well as carbohydrates from the tortilla,” she explains. “Plus, the eggs will satiate you.” On the flip side, massive sausage-and-cheese-filled breakfast burritos tend to be laden with sodium, cancer-causing nitrates and unhealthy fats.
7) Breakfast Sandwich: Hunnes says this has the potential to be lighter than a breakfast burrito, depending on the filling. However, she mentions that many breakfast sandwiches are incredibly greasy, which “might turn your tummy.” In fact, the reason these breakfast sandwiches are so greasy is because they’re often full of unhealthy saturated fats and trans fats, which will absolutely ruin your heart.
8) Leftover Pizza: Hunnes says this really depends on the type of pizza. On one hand, veggie pizza can be extremely healthy. On the other hand, frozen pizza is essentially one of the worst things you can put in your mouth. The takeaway here should simply be that more vegetables is always better.
9) Full English Breakfast: This is the de facto hangover breakfast in England, and it usually consists of bacon, fried eggs, sausages, mushrooms, baked beans, black pudding, toast and grilled tomatoes. “This would certainly give you a lot to eat,” Hunnes says. “But it might be a bit upsetting to your already-upset stomach.”
As for how healthy it is, well, it’s tough to say. We already talked about how sausage can contribute to the development of cancer — same for bacon — so we can assume black pudding will too, since it is, for all intents and purposes, just a giant pig scab. In moderation, eggs are healthy, despite being demonized for causing heart disease. On the flip side, mushrooms and tomatoes are incredibly healthy — they can even help protect against those ailments that come from eating the bad stuff listed above. Finally, beans, even baked beans, are good for you, since they contain loads of prebiotic fiber, which helps your gut.
All in all, a full English breakfast is probably okay so long as you go easy on the meat and heavy on the vegetables. Which you almost certainly won’t, hence it being so far down the list.
10) Coffee and Mimosas: Welp, looks like you’re getting back on the train. However, that’s basically the worst thing for you. “Alcohol isn’t good for a hangover,” Hunnes emphasizes. As for coffee, primary care physician Marc Leavey previously explained, “The trouble is that coffee is a diuretic — it promotes voiding even more, which can worsen the dehydration. The caffeine might be helpful to some, but needs to be balanced by the fluid effects.” So yeah, drink some water, dude.
“My best recommendation,” Hunnes says, “is really some whole-grain toast with light peanut butter, or maybe a vegetable omelette (or tofu scramble) with fruit and perhaps a cup of non-dairy milk.” Which sounds a whole lot like the omelette and soup breakfast that nutritionists touted as the ultimate hangover cure a while back.
Overall, though, the healthiest hangover breakfasts are almost always going to be the ones you crave the least. “It’s important to go right back into a healthy routine and not let last night’s overindulgence spiral into a week of them,” registered dietitian nutritionist Ilana Muhlstein previously explained. “Start the day fresh with a smart and filling breakfast.”
So basically, do the opposite of whatever you did last night. Which in my case means retrieving my underwear from the roof of the bar and wearing them home.