If you're one of the 15 million Americans
experiencing heartburnevery day, there's more to discouraging the
discomfort than avoiding certain foods and beverages.
Heartburn relief also has to do with the
timing and size of your meals, says The American College of Gastroenterology,
which is why planning your meals can be so important. But before we get to the
planning part, it helps to know what causes heartburn.
In people with frequent heartburn, the
lower esophageal sphincter muscle (LES) may be weak, or relax too frequently,
allowing stomach acids to get into the esophagus.
Heartburn happens when the lining of the
esophagus comes in contact with too much stomach acid, producing a burning pain
and injuring the esophagus. Yet heartburn can be halted -- that's where meal
planning comes in.
11 Meal Planning Tips to Prevent Heartburn
If you have frequent or occasional
heartburn, you can help decrease the tendency of the LES to relax, and decrease
the likelihood that the stomach contents (and stomach acid) will splash up
toward the LES by keeping in mind a few tips:
down for two to three hours
after eating. When you lie down, it's physically easier for stomach contents to
splash up toward the LES. By sitting up or standing, gravity helps stomach
contents stay where they belong -- at the bottom of the stomach.
Avoid items that weaken the LES
muscle (like chocolate,
peppermint, caffeine, alcohol, fatty foods) and foods and beverages that may
irritate a damaged esophagus lining (citrus and citrus juice, tomatoes and
tomato juice, and chili peppers and black pepper).
Avoid eating large
meals because the more volume
in the stomach, the more likely the stomach contents will splash toward the
LES. Try eating four to five small meals instead of two or three large
meals because they tend to
stay in the stomach longer; greasy or fried foods can also weaken the LES
Avoid smoking and avoid alcohol before, during,
or after meals that seem to result in heartburn (like dinner). Both smoking and
alcohol weaken the LES muscle.
Try waiting at least two hours after a meal
before exercising if you find your heartburn seems to get
worse after exercise.
Chew gum (a nonpeppermint flavor) after meals to stimulate
saliva production (the bicarbonate in saliva neutralizes acid) and increase
peristalsis (which helps move the stomach contents into the small intestine
Plan your meals to encourage slow
but sureweight lossif you are overweight. Extra weight around the
midsection, especially, can press against the stomach and increase the pressure
going up toward the LES.
Drink a small glass of
water at the end of meals to
help dilute and wash down any stomach acid that might be splashing up into the
esophagus, suggests Shekhar Challa, MD, president of Kansas Medical Clinic and
author of Spurn The Burn: Treat The Heat.
Plan on heartburn-friendly
beverages like water, mineral
water, decaffeinated tea, noncitrus juices, or nonfat or low-fat milk.
Beverages to avoid include:
Sodas: These can bloat the abdomen,
increasing the pressure in the stomach and encouraging stomach acid to splash
up into the esophagus.
Juices: Tomato and citrus juices can
irritate a damaged esophagus.
Alcoholic beverages, coffee (even decaf)
and caffeinated tea and cola can increase the acid content in the stomach as
well as relax the LES.
Eat a high fiber
diet! A recent study found
that people who followed a high-fiber meal plan were 20% less likely to have
acid reflux symptoms, regardless of their body weight. You'll find fiber in
whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds (basically unprocessed