The Drunken Pull of Chinese Food, Explained

My buzzed brain always demands shrimp fried rice — and science can explain why.

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I have a tendency to drunk dial my local Chinese restaurant (or rather, the bastardized American version of a Chinese restaurant). I can’t help it: Booze makes me crave egg rolls and orange chicken every bit as much as it makes me crave deep and meaningful conversations with my cab driver.

The first phenomenon, at least, can be explained by science (and, yeah, my complete and utter lack of willpower). It’s the alcohol itself that causes you to crave many of the ingredients commonly found in Chinese food, according to nutritionist David Friedman, author of Food Sanity: How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction. “Being under the influence of alcohol enhances the taste of salt and fat [two ingredients that are notoriously abundant in Chinese food],” he explains. “Alcohol also increases the secretion of ghrelin (a hormone that makes you hungry) and decreases the secretion of leptin (a hormone that makes you full).” This makes large-portion sizes — a common aspect of Chinese food — ideal when you’re 15 drinks deep.

There’s plenty of research to back up this claim: A study from Purdue University also found that booze enhances the flavor of salt and fat, explaining that this is largely because alcohol causes the body to produce large amounts of galanin. This is the insidious protein that encourages the ravenous consumption of fat, as MEL Magazine booze correspondent Haley Hamilton explained in her recent article about the drunk munchies:

“According to research published with the National Institutes of Health, galanin has a ‘positive, reciprocal relationship with dietary fat and alcohol. In this relationship, galanin increases the [desire to consume] fat or alcohol which, in turn, stimulates the expression of galanin, ultimately leading to overconsumption.’”

Because alcohol is a diuretic — which makes you pee a ton and eventually results in dehydration — it also causes you to crave salt, since sodium helps your body retain water (which explains why I enjoy pouring packs of soy sauce into my mouth when I’m, er, sauced).

But science aside, Chinese food is also innately social — a factor that comforts your drunk brain — according to Nina Savelle-Rocklin, a psychoanalyst who specializes in weight, food and body image issues and author of Food For Thought: Perspectives On Eating Disorders. “There’s something communal about Chinese food,” she explains. “It’s not only about the actual food itself — there’s an inherent connection to community in the experience of eating Chinese food. Whether you’re alone or with others, that experience can be comforting.”

Now excuse me while I drown myself in tequila and soy sauce.