Cure a Food Hangover
Michael Y. Park
Let’s just lay all our cards on the table: You’ve had food hangovers, and we’ve had food hangovers.
Sure, you may call it by another name, but you know the symptoms intimately: bloating, lethargy, maybe a little nausea or stomach upset, with a general feeling of blah thrown in for good measure. And you know the cause: not drinking too much but eating too much—overindulging in food that’s too fatty, salty, spicy, sugary, caffeinated, or simply voluminous for your body to cope with the following morning.
For us, it’s an occupational hazard. For you, it’s probably a reminder you had a great night out. But for all of us, it’s something we want to be rid of as quickly as possible.
Though we at BA have our drawers full of Pepto, prescription medicines, and home remedies, we thought we’d consult professionals to see what they say the best cures for food hangovers are.
The Skinny on Fat
You may feel like you’re going to explode after that once-a-year gorging session at the steakhouse, but we have good news for you.
“It’s not going to kill you,” says David Levitsky, a professor of nutrition and psychology at Cornell University.
What’s likely going on is that your body simply wasn’t prepared to handle such a large amount of fatty food. It’s going to take a little while for your digestive tract to get up to speed and build up the necessary enzymes to process it, causing you that leaden, bloated feeling you’re suffering through, possibly along with indigestion or heartburn.
“If you’re a vegetarian and ate a steak, it’s going to sit there a while,” Levitsky says. “If you haven’t had a high-fat diet for a while, it’s going to stick around because the necessary enzyme supply simply isn’t in the G.I. tract. It’s just going to take a while before the digestion is complete and moves it into the colon.”
Though you’re ultimately going to have to wait it out, Jennifer Stack, assistant professor of nutrition at the Culinary Institute of America, suggests some things might speed the process along a little.
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“People can try chewing gum—it stimulates saliva, which stimulates the stomach acid and helps move the stomach contents to the small intestine—though it’ll take a while,” she says. “Or they might try an herbal tea that’s caffeine-free, or simply sip some water. It also helps to take a walk. It doesn’t burn off calories but, compared to lying or sitting down, might prompt the digestive tract to keep moving. And since you’re upright, it limits the chance of acid reflux.”
Stack advises against chewing or eating anything mint-based after a large meal, however, as she subscribes to the much-debated theory that mint contributes to acid reflux by lowering pressure on the esophageal sphincter. Levitsky, on the other hand, is part of the side of the debate that doesn’t believe mint has any such effect.
More Than a Grain of Salt
If your poison came in the form of an extra-salty meal, junk food, or processed foods, then your natural instinct is generally your best bet.
“This is where water is really helpful,” Stack says. “We need plenty of water to excrete the excess sodium. And a glass of water or fluid can help dilute the stomach acid, which is a preventative way to avoid acid reflux or acid burn.”