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December 2008 Issue

UC experts say eating too many sweet or fatty foods and alcohol can cause indigestion.
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Go Easy on Fats, Sugars to Avoid Indigestion Over the Holidays

By Katie Pence
Published December 2008

Roasted turkey, candied yams, buttery mashed potatoes smothered in rich gravy and a big slice of pie to top it off: That’s often what comes to mind when thinking about festive gatherings.

But sometimes, the monstrous meals served at holiday dinners leave us feeling less than cheery as we lie on the couch nursing our over-filled tummies.

UC experts say this can easily be avoided if you think twice before filling your plates—and mouths— with second and third helpings of food.

Jonathan Kushner, MD, associate professor in the digestive diseases division at UC, says indigestion is mostly caused by devouring too many sweets and fats in a short period of time.

“It’s eating too much, too soon, and eating the things that slow down the digestion process, particularly stomach emptying,” he says.

Indigestion is a general term used to describe discomfort or burning in the upper abdomen, often accompanied by nausea, abdominal bloating or belching. Kushner says indigestion can be related to increased amounts of air and substance in a limited space, exceeding the gut’s ability to comfortably move them along.

“Fats and sweets are plentiful during the holiday season and commonly make up the food everyone wants to eat and enjoy,” he says. “However, these foods slow down the stomach’s emptying process and can even lead to increased esophageal acid reflux because there is nowhere for the food to go.”

He adds that carbonated beverages tend to cause more expansion in the stomach, making a person feel fuller and bloated. In order to avoid indigestion discomfort, Kushner suggests:

• Limiting portion sizes.

• Watching intake of fatty and sugary foods and spreading them throughout courses.

• Drinking water before and during a meal to give the feeling of a full stomach and prevent overeating.

• Limiting alcohol intake, which can cause acid reflux.

Kushner adds that getting involved in that pickup football game or taking a walk around the block can also help.

“Do something physical between courses,” he says. “Physical activity can aid in the digestion process.” He also recommends over-thecounter antacids or acid reducers if these tips still don’t work.

“If your symptoms persist for more than a day or so or actually happen on a recurring basis, there may be a more serious problem,” he adds. “

In these cases, it’s best to see your doctor for further treatment.”

Kushner adds that people with cardiac conditions or risks should also keep this in mind, as studies show heart attacks can occur after the intake of a big meal.

"The holidays can be great fun, but you’ll enjoy them even more if you take a few precautions and understand what makes your stomach full,” he says.

UC Health Line features information and tips for consumers. Read new Health Lines every Thursday or access story archives at

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