Around half of North American adults experience heartburn at least once per month and about 10-20% have it at least once per week!
So, it shouldn’t surprise me that when I’m speaking and ask the audience, “who has experienced heartburn?” A sea of hands goes up!
Heartburn (aka reflux) occurs when the acid from your stomach creeps back up into your esophagus. It can feel like a burning sensation, which gives it its name. Other common symptoms include bloating or burping and can include a bitter or sour taste as well.
But stomach acid isn’t all bad. In fact, it’s essential for good health and optimal digestion. It
- protects us from bacteria that lurk in our food and drinks.
- helps us break down our food and digest nutrients.
And stomach acid doesn’t burn the stomach tissue itself because of the mucosal layer protecting it. However, your esophagus doesn’t have that same layer of protection. So, it’s important to make sure you are choosing the right foods and eating the right way at the right time to support your system’s functioning and prevent heartburn from becoming a problem.
I have written about tips to reduce heartburn before. Here are the 5 tips. Below, I get even more specific on the actual trigger foods you want to be avoiding and the importance of the timing of eating.
Important note: if symptoms last for a long time, or get worse, please go see your doctor.
What to Eat
You may notice that certain foods cause you to get heartburn. These triggers are different for everyone but typically include onions, garlic, chocolate, citrus, tomato, mint, spicy or greasy foods, coffee, carbonated drinks, or alcohol. Some people are triggered by food sensitivities to grains or dairy, so those are important to watch out for as well.
The best thing to so it to reduce these foods or cut them out for a period of time (3-4 weeks) to see if it makes a difference. Keep a journal so you can review and notice changes.
At the same time, increase your fiber intake (i.e. whole foods, especially veggies). Try getting at least five servings of veggies every day!
How to Eat
Eat slowly. Use meal times to release stress. Chew your food well and don’t eat meals that are too big. Eating in a rushed or stressed frame of mind prevents your body from properly preparing for food and could result in too LITTLE stomach acid.
Too little stomach acid can prevent the breakdown of your food so that it sits in your stomach too long and starts to creep back up. This is a common issue and to read more about it click here.
When to Eat
Don’t eat too close to bedtime. You want to avoid lying down with a full stomach. Try to finish eating 2-3 hours before lying down.
Sometimes strenuous exercise can make heartburn symptoms worse. If this happens to you, then focus on low-intensity exercises like walking and cycling.
If symptoms come on as you’re lying down to sleep, try placing something under your headboard or add a pillow so your head is a bit higher than your stomach.
And try sleeping on your left side. Lying on your left side works because the valve between the stomach and the esophagus is located on the right side of the stomach. So, when you’re lying on your left, the acid is away from that valve.
Heartburn is a very common condition where stomach acid creeps up into the esophagus where it shouldn’t be.
If you suffer from heartburn, there are many things you can do to help yourself. There are foods and drinks to avoid or increase. You can eat slower, chew more thoroughly, and don’t lie down within 2-3 hours of eating. You can try lowering the intensity of your exercise and sleeping on your left side.
These are simple, natural strategies that work for many people, so give them a try and see if they can help you too.
If you want to work with a nutrition practitioner along with your doctor, then please contact me here for a free consult to get started.