Heartburn is defined as a burning sensation in the chest or throat and is caused by stomach acid making its way to your esophagus (a tube in the body responsible for carrying foods and liquids to your stomach).
The condition, which affects 60 million Americans every month, can be caused by a few different factors such as eating certain foods, drinking alcohol and coffee, and smoking. Various medications can also lead to heartburn, like the common pain relievers aspirin and ibuprofen. Heartburn may be mild at first, but can lead to ulcers (breakdown of tissues) in the esophagus, and if left untreated, carries an increased risk of esophageal cancer.
Luckily, heartburn is not difficult to control. There are drugs available that protect the esophagus from stomach acid, limiting episodes of heartburn. These include antacids, histamines, and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). If the condition is severe, surgery is also an option as a last resort. But most people with heartburn are able to control it via dietary changes.
Some changes you can make in your eating habits include:
- Eating smaller meals
- Avoiding eating before bedtime
- Avoiding alcohol and tobacco, as well as over-the-counter pain-relieving medication such as aspirin and ibuprofen
- Sleeping with 2 or 3 pillows. Propping your head up while you sleep can block acid from traveling from the stomach to the esophagus. You may even want to prop your entire bed up at the head with blocks of wood or bricks. As little as 6 inches of elevation can help you avoid nighttime heartburn.
You can also switch up your diet a little. Some foods that may induce heartburn are spicy dishes, tomato sauces, vinegar, and citrus fruits. One main culprit of heartburn is fatty or greasy foods, which remain in the stomach for longer, increasing stomach pressure and releasing stomach acid into the esophagus. Avoid hamburgers, fried eggs, bacon, fried chicken, and buttery baked goods. Some fatty foods that are generally considered healthy may also lead to heartburn, including avocados, cheese, and nuts. Some people get heartburn when they eat foods containing gluten such as bread and other baked goods. Some experience it when they eat sugar. Experiment with a food diary to find out what is causing heartburn for YOU.
Now you know what foods not to eat for heartburn. But what foods should you eat, then?
If you usually enjoy sausages, bacon, or fried eggs in the morning, consider replacing that high-fat meal with a bowl of oatmeal and a banana, or some low-fat yogurt with fruit and nuts. Whole-grain toast and scrambled eggs is also a good choice. For lunch, maybe try a plate of brown rice with chicken and vegetables; dinner could be baked fish and potatoes with a side salad.
These are examples of healthy, low-fat meals that won’t trigger an episode of heartburn, but you shouldn’t feel that your choices are limited. In reality, you can eat anything that isn’t high in fat, fried, or spicy, and avoid alcohol, caffeine and smoking tobacco. Once your diet is in check, your heartburn won’t be much of a problem any longer.