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  • Dipping Pizza in My Beer: I was Wrong About Alcohol

    For the longest time, I thought alcohol made my food taste better. Like many people who have considered cutting out alcohol, the question, “How would I enjoy my steak without a glass of wine?” was at the forefront of my mind. The thought of never being able to have a glass of wine with dinner or have a bottle of beer while ordering pizza felt almost devastating. Despite all the harm alcohol has caused in my life, I felt deprived whenever I had to turn down a drink at the dinner table. Because the truth is I didn’t order a bottle of wine to get a DUI on my way home; I ordered it because it “makes my food taste better” – so I believed.

    Belief Does Not Equal Reality

    Luckily, I found out that belief does not equal reality. As humans, we don’t have the capacity to grasp the full scope of reality. Therefore, we make sense of reality based on our experience and observations and draw assumptions from the information that is most relevant to our needs. Assumptions lead to conclusions. Then, finally, we form beliefs. 


    For example, one may conclude that airplanes are dangerous after hearing a story of someone who died in a plane crash and develops a belief that “I will die if I ride a plane.”

    Beliefs can be such a powerful force that drives emotions and actions. Despite the fact that planes are one of the safest ways of travel, the belief “I will die if I ride a plane” can lead to a paralyzing fear and one’s inability to set foot on an aircraft. 


    In this article, we will investigate whether the common belief “alcohol makes food taste better” is a skewed perception like “I will die if I ride a plane” or is it one rooted in reality.


    What Makes Our Food Better?  

    Before we inspect this belief, let’s first look at what one can do to enhance the experience of enjoying a dish. Three main factors can determine our experience with food: appearance, texture, and flavor. For example, crunchy breadcrumbs add texture to a simple salad, a sprig of parsley makes a pumpkin soup visually appealing, and a sprinkle of lemon zest brings a pop of bright flavor to a salmon. How exactly does alcohol enhance the dining experience in these three ways? We never dip our pizza in a beer to change its texture, nor do we pour red wine on a steak to bring out the meaty taste. A bright-colored cocktail may be visually pleasing, but that says more about the colorful syrup and fruity garnish than the alcohol itself. 


    If the Food Doesn’t Taste Better, Why Do People Eat More When They Drink?

    One reason that one may think alcohol makes food taste better is that many of us tend to eat more when we drink. If we are eating more, that must mean that the food tastes better, right? 


    Science tells a different story. It turned out that alcohol makes certain neurons fire more often in our brains. One affected neuron is called Agouti-Related Protein – a neuron that tells the brain that you are hungry. At the same time, alcohol suppresses a protein called leptin, which sends a signal to let your body know when you are full. In other words, people eat more when they drink, not because the food has become more delicious. They eat more because the alcohol confuses the messengers in their bodies by continuously sending the “I am hungry” signals and never delivering the “I am full” ones. 


    What Does Alcohol Actually Do To One’s Taste?

    Multiple studies showed that consuming alcohol in high amounts reduces the sensitivity of one’s taste receptors. Alcohol interferes with the body’s ability to absorb certain nutrients, such as vitamin B complex, vitamin A, and zinc, which can change the structure and function of one’s silvia and taste buds and result in less sensitivity to texture and certain tastes. One study found that long-term drinkers need to consume significantly higher amounts of sugar to achieve the same effect as non-drinkers. In other words, excessive alcohol consumption may lead to less sensitivity toward sweets. How would most of your favorite dishes taste if you can no longer detect the sweetness in them? 


    What Else Could We be Wrong?

    If alcohol not only doesn’t enhance the taste of your food but, in reality, it also could rob your ability to enjoy the full range of flavor from your favorite dishes, what other beliefs you have about alcohol could be untrue? If you are curious about other common myths, check out my free I was Wrong About Alcohol series.


    For the readers who remain skeptical, please don’t take my word for it. In the upcoming week, conduct your research and experiment. I would not suggest you dip your pizza in your beer. But perhaps get a bite of your favorite food, and while the food is still in your mouth, add the mouthful of alcohol in there. Don’t swallow it; let the food and drink mix in your mouth for a minute, and see whether you really like your food better that way.  



    Heckmann WSCM. (2009) Dependência do álcool: aspectos clínicos e diagnósticos. In Anthony JC, Silveira CM. Álcool e suas consequências: uma abordagem multiconceitual. Barueri (SP)-Brazil: Minha Editora, 67–87.

    Caruso, C. (2017, January 10). Drunk Mice Get the Munchies. Scientific American.

    Calissendorff, J. (2005, May 1). Inhibitory effect of alcohol on ghrelin secretion in normal man. Eje.