Happy Hangover-Free New Year!

Bonnie Taub-Dix

When you hear the term, "drink responsibly," you'll probably think about the connection between drinking and driving. Around this time of year, that association could represent the difference between life and death.

[See 9 Holiday Health Hazards to Avoid]

Too much alcohol could also result in a date with the porcelain bowl if you're not careful or bring a throbbing headache the day after drinking. Whatever comes to your mind when you envision a hangover, it's not a pretty picture.

Heavily hitting the bottle could ruin a few precious vacation days, too. So instead of focusing on how to cure your hangover, you'll probably have a better time at that New Year's Day brunch by taking some simple steps to avoid going overboard altogether. Here's how you can still belt down a few without ending up down on the floor:

-- Prevent problems by pre-fueling. The meal you have before you drink could determine how drunk, or sick, you'll feel. Eating will help "coat your stomach" by slowing down the absorption of alcohol. Meals that include a mixture of protein, whole-grain carbs, and fat will do the trick. Combinations like almond butter on whole-wheat toast, cereal and milk, or cheese and crackers will help delay the absorption of alcohol and give you more time to enjoy a New Year's Eve party you'll remember on New Year's Day.

-- Make water your best friend. Couple every alcoholic drink with an equal serving of water. This will curtail the dehydrating effect of alcohol that can make you feel sluggish and headachy. Add a twist of lime and ice cubes to help make your every-other-drink look like a gin and tonic, if you're feeling any party peer pressure. Taking the time to have a cold glass of water will also help you pace your drinking and give you time to taste and enjoy what you're putting in your body, too.

-- Know your body. How you handle your alcohol depends on many factors including your height, weight, age, gender, state of health, and what you ate before drinking. If you're a 5-foot-4-inch female, don't get into a drinking contest with a 6-foot-4-inch male; that will not turn out well, no matter how many people may be cheering you on.

[See Recipe for Health]

-- Ditch the bubbles. Carbonated mixers, like sodas, increase the speed at which alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream. If you're going to have a mixed drink, it might be best to stick with juice or water instead.

-- Ice would be nice. Adding some cubes to your beverage will help dilute it. This will help hydrate you and also make your glass of booze look bigger (again, if you're worried about peer pressure).

-- Pay attention to alcohol content. If you know you have a long night ahead of you, it might be best to choose wine or beer over hard liquor.

-- What's the rush? Drink slowly. Although you may not feel like your drink is going to your head, you absorb alcohol more quickly than you may realize. Don't wait until it's too late to recognize alcohol's effect.

-- Don't be too creative. This is not the time to see how many colorful drinks you can imbibe. It's also not a good idea to mix spirits, so if you start off with vodka, don't switch to gin or wine. Decide on your drink of the night, and stick with it.

-- Calories that you don't chew still count. Remember that an average mixed drink could cost you 300 to 500 calories, depending on the size of the glass and the spirits and mixers selected. If you feel great in that outfit when you walk into the party, you'd feel even better if it still felt that way when you walk out the door.

[See Eat, Drink, and Be Wary: How to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain]

-- Dance the night away. Take a break from drinking, and have some fun on the dance floor to actively ring in the new year (and burn some of those alcohol-derived calories)!

-- Catch some zzz's. Although this may not be scientifically proven, burning yourself out before indulging in holiday cheer could cut your night short or make celebrating less enjoyable. Try to take a nap before your party so that you can feel refreshed and ready for some fun.

And if the safeguards mentioned above seem too overwhelming, the best way to avoid a hangover is by naming yourself the designated driver; your head and stomach (and probably a few of your friends) will thank you for making that decision.

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns, and feedback.

Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN, has been owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC, for more than three decades and she is the author of Read It Before You Eat It. As a renowned motivational speaker, author, media personality, and award-winning dietitian, Taub-Dix has found a way to communicate how to make sense of science. Her website is BetterThanDieting.com.