Tips to enjoy holiday food and other special parts of the season

While most of us look forward with anticipation to the culinary delights of the holiday season, the decedent buffet can be treacherous territory for those with food-related health concerns.

Too often, eating large quantities of rich foods outside our normal diet and routine can leave those with digestive conditions feeling ill and unable to fully enjoy their time with family and friends. Food-related health issues, such as celiac disease, dyspepsia and lactose intolerance, have become an increasingly common diagnosis.

Symptoms can range from feeling uncomfortable after a rich meal to experiencing nausea, abdominal pain, and, in some cases, fatigue and depression.

"We all love holiday food, but we can't let the buffet get the best of us," says Charlene Prather, M.D., professor of gastroenterology at Saint Louis University.

"It's better to enjoy a few delicious dishes that agree with you. Then, you'll truly enjoy other special parts of the season."

Holiday meals and buffets, in particular, can defeat our best intentions if we aren't careful, Prather says.

"We don't want to take too long choosing our food and hold up the line of people waiting behind us, we don't want to hurt the chef's feelings, and we may not realize how large our portions are because the food is served in such large quantities," Prather said. "But for those who have food problems, it's worth it to ask what ingredients are in a dish and take our time choosing what we'll eat.

"It is possible to have a delicious meal and still feel great for the rest of the day."

And, if you're hosting an event, remember that it's not personal if your guest declines seconds or refuses a dish. While you don't need to alter every dish to accommodate a guest with special dietary needs, it's considerate to make sure there are at least a few items on the menu that everyone will be able to enjoy.

Prather offers the following advice:

For celiac disease or gluten-intolerance
Avoid wheat, rye and barley. Celiac disease is a condition in which gluten, which is found in these grains, damages the small intestine. Even a small amount of gluten can cause damage, so it's best for those with the condition to choose every dish they eat carefully.

It's not only those with celiac disease who need to avoid wheat products. Many people who experience less severe symptoms have a lower level of gluten intolerance, and find they simply feel much better when they avoid these foods.

Good alternatives include potatoes, rice, soy, and quinoa. Many grocery stores also sell gluten-free bread and other products.

For dyspepsia
Avoid too much fat and alcohol. Dyspepsia, a condition characterized by upper abdominal pain or discomfort, bloating, belching, or nausea, is very common. Doctors don't understand all of the reasons why people experience dyspepsia, and the National Institutes of Health is conducting a study to learn more. Read more about this research at

Doctors do suggest that patients with chronic dyspepsia limit fat and alcohol consumption to help minimize symptoms.

Steer clear of heavy dishes, like mayonnaise-based casseroles and butter-filled desserts, and instead choose dishes that feature grains, fruits, and vegetables. Consider limiting alcohol to one cocktail, and substitute sparkling grape juice for a dinner-time toast.

For lactose intolerance
Avoid milk, cheese, and other dairy products. People with lactose intolerance don't have enough of the enzyme lactase, which is needed to digest the milk sugar in dairy products. By limiting dairy consumption, they can avoid the digestive upset that goes along with the condition.

Avoid dishes topped with cheese, ice cream and cheesecake. When possible, choose soy milk, and if you do eat cheese, select hard cheeses like Swiss or cheddar, which have less lactose than others.


 Saint Louis University School of Medicine


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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