The relation between gastric emptying and the intragastric distribution of 300 ml radiolabelled beef consommé with and without 60 g margarine was investigated by performing randomised, paired gammacamera studies in seven healthy male volunteers (aged 20-22 years). The low calorie bland meal emptied rapidly from both the proximal and distal stomach after a short lag period (4-6 min), during which 24-50% of the liquid passed into the distal stomach. Addition of margarine to the liquid test meal increased the lag period (median 32 min, range 7-60 min; p less than 0.01) and decreased the slope of emptying (T1/2 lag period 88 min, 49-146 min v 15 min, 10-57 min; p less than 0.01). During the lag period there was an initial filling of the distal stomach, similar to that with the bland liquid, followed by a redistribution of between 19% and 61% (median 46%) of the distal stomach contents back into the proximal stomach. At the onset of emptying, the distal stomach filled (median 30%, range 16-34%) and during this time the proximal stomach emptied twice as fast as the whole stomach (p less than 0.05). Thereafter, the distal stomach capacity remained relatively constant while both the proximal and whole stomach emptied at similar rates. This study shows that the delay in gastric emptying of a liquid that has a high fat content is due in part to a redistribution of distal stomach contents back into the proximal stomach.