The task of an aper­i­tif is to excite the appetite, cause the secre­tion of sali­va and diges­tive juices, and to a cer­tain extent pre­pare the taste buds for the per­cep­tion of the taste of food. Does this mean that an aper­i­tif can make a per­son eat more than nec­es­sary? What oth­er effect does an aper­i­tif have on the body? Read the Med­AboutMe arti­cle for answers.

Aperitif: what is it and why?

Drink­ing alco­holic bev­er­ages before meals was cus­tom­ary in the very ear­ly Mid­dle Ages. Then this was done not so much to stim­u­late appetite, but as a pre­ven­tion of many dis­eases that could be picked up with poor­ly cooked food. How­ev­er, in a com­plete­ly civ­i­lized 19th cen­tu­ry, the task of an aper­i­tif could remain the same. For exam­ple, in 1846, the French chemist Dubon­net cre­at­ed a recipe for an aper­i­tif con­tain­ing qui­nine, which was then used to treat malar­ia, and also used this bit­ter sub­stance to pre­vent a dis­ease that claimed mil­lions of lives. The bit­ter taste of qui­nine was masked by a mix­ture of var­i­ous wines, herbal extracts and spices.

By the way, malar­ia is still one of the most dan­ger­ous dis­eases. You can read about it in a sep­a­rate arti­cle.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of fair­ly well-to-do stra­ta of soci­ety “dab­bled in” with an aper­i­tif: there was no need for the poor to excite their appetite, they would be sat­is­fied with mea­ger food to their fill. But since then, the sit­u­a­tion has changed, and today the aper­i­tif has become a famil­iar part of the food cul­ture. A glass of wine or a shot of whiskey before lunch or din­ner is com­mon.

But is it worth spurring the appetite in this way?

How does an aperitif work?

How does an aperitif work?

Many stud­ies con­duct­ed by dif­fer­ent groups of sci­en­tists have proven that drink­ing alco­hol increas­es crav­ings for spicy and high-pro­tein foods. How­ev­er, there was no evi­dence that alco­holic bev­er­ages them­selves can cause obe­si­ty, despite being high in calo­ries.

Some sci­en­tists believe, how­ev­er, that much depends on the amount of alco­hol con­sumed: mod­er­ate con­sump­tion does not lead to weight gain, and exces­sive con­sump­tion can con­tribute to obe­si­ty. Or at least be a risk fac­tor. This is report­ed in their arti­cle pub­lished in 2015, researchers from Cana­da.

But sci­en­tists from the UK have noticed a dif­fer­ent rela­tion­ship between alco­hol and weight. Accord­ing to their obser­va­tions, peo­ple who often go on weight loss diets drink more to drown out the feel­ing of hunger. But they also more often report that it is under the influ­ence of alco­hol that they break down, lose self-con­trol, and as a result “eat up” every­thing dropped at the cost of painful restric­tions.

Japan­ese sci­en­tists inves­ti­gat­ed the rela­tion­ship between alco­hol con­sump­tion and the lev­el of lep­tin, a hor­mone that sup­press­es the feel­ing of hunger. It turned out that after the intro­duc­tion of a small amount of ethanol into the stom­ach, the lev­el of lep­tin in the blood serum changes, name­ly, it sig­nif­i­cant­ly decreas­es. Which, accord­ing­ly, leads to increased feel­ings of hunger, and this effect lasts up to 6 hours. True, lab rats were used as test sub­jects, but the authors of the study, pub­lished in 2007, are con­fi­dent that the results of their work are impor­tant for under­stand­ing the rela­tion­ship between alco­hol con­sump­tion and appetite in humans too.

Anoth­er study was con­duct­ed in the UK. It was attend­ed by women who on dif­fer­ent days were offered var­i­ous alco­holic and non-alco­holic drinks as an aper­i­tif, and then — menus of dif­fer­ent com­po­si­tion of prod­ucts. The study par­tic­i­pants were not con­cerned about being over­weight, were calm about food, and did not seek to com­ply with dietary restric­tions that could affect the out­come of the exper­i­ment. The result showed that alco­hol encour­ages peo­ple to eat more high-calo­rie foods.

Expert com­ment

Aman­da Grech, nutri­tion­ist

Amanda Grech, nutritionistIn Aus­tralia, a large-scale study of nutri­tion and health was con­duct­ed, which includ­ed infor­ma­tion on food and drink obtained from more than 9,000 adults. We have devel­oped a spe­cial obser­va­tion method that allows you to take into account the var­i­ous com­po­nents and track the inter­ac­tions between the con­sump­tion of cer­tain foods and drinks.

Our research has con­firmed that alco­hol increas­es crav­ings for high-pro­tein, high-ener­gy foods and spicy spices. 2/3 of the par­tic­i­pants after the aper­i­tif chose meals low in fat and car­bo­hy­drates, but rich in eas­i­ly digestible pro­tein. The remain­ing 30% showed more inter­est in uma­mi-fla­vored, high-fat, low-pro­tein foods. The first con­sumed an aver­age of 1750 kcal per day, the sec­ond — more than 3000 kcal. Accord­ing­ly, it is in the sec­ond group that the risk of over­weight and obe­si­ty is high. But for par­tic­i­pants in the first group, calo­rie intake rough­ly match­es their needs and ener­gy expen­di­ture. From this we con­clud­ed that alco­hol can indeed lead to weight gain, but this does not hap­pen in all cas­es.

Much of the risk stems from the fact that unhealthy, high-fat, high-car­bo­hy­drate foods are more read­i­ly avail­able and cheap­er, which is why alco­hol con­sump­tion can indeed con­tribute to the obe­si­ty epi­dem­ic, espe­cial­ly in times of cri­sis.

To drink or not to drink?

To drink or not to drink?

Busi­ness, as they say, mas­ter’s. But here’s what nutri­tion experts rec­om­mend.

  • Do not for­get that an aper­i­tif does not have to con­tain alco­hol. An aper­i­tif can be a glass of min­er­al water or fruit juice, or a mix­ture of both. Just do not add alco­hol to the juice: stud­ies have shown that it is this mix­ture that most spurs hunger and makes you eat more unhealthy foods.
  • Choose foods that are good sources of eas­i­ly digestible pro­tein for your menu: chick­en, fish, seafood, legumes, cheese, nuts, veg­etable dish­es.
  • Remem­ber that the amount of alco­hol you drink must be con­trolled and lim­it­ed. And the best and safest thing is to stop using it.

We also rec­om­mend read­ing the arti­cle “Dan­ger­ous Liaisons: How Not to Com­bine Food and Alco­hol.”

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