One of my least favorite party tricks in my 30s has been the ability to get hungover without getting drunk. All it takes to ruin the next day is three glasses of wine. While I used to solve this problem by ordering $30 worth of greasy breakfast sandwiches, I’m wiser now and know that the perfect solution — a pack of instant ramen, ideally beef flavored and consumed within the first hour of waking up — actually only costs 13 cents.
When we drink more alcohol than our livers can break down, it enters our bloodstream and travels to other organs. Once the booze hits the brain, it blocks the production of vasopressin, a hormone that’s supposed to keep us from peeing all the time. That’s why drunk people constantly have to piss and wake up all dehydrated and drained of electrolytes, like salt.
Enter instant ramen, with nearly 90 percent of our daily recommended sodium. Under any other conditions, this would be bad, but according to Lauren Shockey, author of the cookbook Hangover Helper: Delicious Cures from Around the World, the one excuse for occasionally eating that much salt in a single sitting might be a hangover. “The salts can help replenish the electrolytes in your body,” she tells me. “Likewise, any broth is good because dehydration is a symptom of being hungover.”
Greasy food gets most of the credit for helping with hangovers, but it only helps prevent hangovers by slowing the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream if you eat it while still drinking. If anything, because alcohol irritates the stomach and intestinal lining, consuming greasy foods the morning after can disrupt the digestive system and make hangovers that much worse.
The thing is, it takes energy and patience to slow cook something like soup; plus, many of us still want grease on the menu following a night of drinking. Instant ramen, then, is the best of both worlds — trash food that’s as soothing as homemade chicken soup. “Ramen is like a salty, fatty, umami electrolyte replenishing drink while bringing all the greasy, savory deliciousness of a diner fry-up,” says chef Brian Casey. To him, the noodles are like a pile of hash browns, and the shimmer on the broth like butter on Texas toast. The only thing that would make it better is adding a soft boiled egg as a “hearty dose of protein,” he says, noting the mental effects as well. “Even if your headache continues to throb, the comfort of a hot noodle soup can dull the pain — if only for the moment you’re enjoying it.”
Shockey seconds Casey’s recommendation to include an egg because “eggs contain cysteine, which is an amino acid that helps break down the hangover-causing toxin acetaldehyde.” When our bodies metabolize alcohol, it turns into acetaldehyde, a compound that’s 10 to 30 times as toxic as alcohol itself. On top of dehydration, scientists suspect that acetaldehyde is why hangovers suck so much.
Likewise, leafy greens rich in nutrients, amino acids and minerals have been found to help hangovers, and it’s pretty easy to dress up a bowl of ramen by tossing in a handful of spinach.
Of course, even fancy instant ramen still isn’t good for you to eat all the time, but neither is drinking to the point of a hangover. If you’re rarely indulging in either, though, ramen and hangovers can be a dream team. Besides, hangover foods are supposed to be a reflection of our mistakes. And if you’re gonna make a mistake, it’s best to do so quickly — like in the three minutes it takes to boil water for a bowl of ramen.