Pass on the fried food. Skip the spicy stuff. Cut out the alcohol and caffeine. As anyone who suffers from heartburn can tell you, there's no shortage of advice on the foods and beverages that should be avoided. Fortunately, it's not all gloom and doom. In fact, some foods and beverages can actually help heartburn pain, easing your symptoms, says Jeannie Gazzaniga-Moloo, who holds a doctorate in nutrition epidemiology and is a registered dietitian and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
Instead of focusing on what you can't eat and drink, learn how to choose the right foods and drinks to help prevent or reduce the uncomfortable burning sensation that heartburn sufferers know too well.
Be smart about beverages
The right fluids can lessen the impact of stomach acids, which are the primary culprits behind the burning sensation. Heartburn occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) -- the valve between the stomach and esophagus -- doesn't close properly. As a result, stomach contents, including the acids involved in digestion, rise back up into the esophagus. When the acid hits the lining of the esophagus, it causes a painful burning feeling in your chest.
"Drinking decaffeinated fluids, like water, helps dilute the acid and digest the food," says Gazzaniga-Moloo. But choose your fluids carefully. Steer clear of drinks that contain caffeine and alcohol, which relax the LES and can trigger heartburn. Some heartburn sufferers are also sensitive to citrus and carbonated beverages. If you're one of them, steer clear of orange juice, carbonated soda, etc. Best bets include beverages like decaf iced tea, some herbal teas (see below), flavored waters, or plain H2O.
Sip herbal tea
Certain teas appear to have a calming effect on a sensitive stomach. Try finishing your meal with a heartburn-soothing cup of chamomile, ginger, anise and/or lavender tea. But be wary of peppermint; while it may ease flatulence and irritable bowel syndrome, it can aggravate heartburn in some people.
Load up on fiber
"Eating a diet rich in fiber keeps the gastrointestinal tract moving, so food isn't hanging around in the stomach longer than it needs to," says Gazzaniga-Moloo. And less time in the stomach means less acid is produced.
To get more fiber:
Make fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes the centerpieces of your meals and the stars of your snacks
Toss berries into your morning cereal
Enjoy salads or veggies at lunch and dinner
Sprinkle beans into soups, stews and salads
Snack on raw veggies or a piece of fruit
Switch from refined carbs to whole-grain varieties whenever you eat bread, pasta, rice or cereal
Look for the words "whole grain" at the top of the ingredients list
Nosh on dry foods
Crackers, pretzels, plain toast, melba toast and other dry foods can provide relief by soaking up stomach acids stirred up during the digestive process. But go easy on high-fat spreads and dips, since fatty foods are slow-to-digest and can aggravate heartburn.
Finally, take the time to eat slowly and really enjoy your meal. Breaking food down while it's still in your mouth will make digestion easier when the food hits your stomach. You'll produce less acid, which in turn means less heartburn.
Winnie Yu is a freelance writer who frequently writes about health and nutrition. Her articles have appeared in Prevention, VIVMag, AARP Bulletin, Diabetic Living and on nytimes.com, among other publications. Her latest book is What to Eat for What Ails You.
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