Dealing with Heartburn

Heartburn (a burning discomfort felt in the chest area) is the most common symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).  GERD is a condition where stomach acids come back up (or reflux) into the esophagus.  At the bottom of the esophagus there is a sphincter, which is a muscle that acts as a protective barrier between the esophagus and the stomach.  When this sphincter does not work properly, it allows some of the acidic contents of the stomach to reflux into the lower esophagus which can lead to several complications including ulcers in the esophagus, esophagitis and heartburn.Diet and lifestyle factors have been found to be helpful in the treatment of GERD.  Some key recommendations to minimize symptoms are as follows:

  • Achieve or maintain a healthy weight.
  • Limit high-fat foods. 
  • Eat smaller and more frequent meals instead of large meals. 
  • Maintain upright posture during and after eating.
  • Avoid clothing that is tight in the abdominal area.
  • Avoid eating within 3 hours before bedtime.
  • Elevate the head of the bed when sleeping.
  • Stop smoking.

There is not a one-size-fits-all diet for heartburn as the severity and symptoms vary greatly from person to person.  However, the following is a list of foods that may aggravate this condition in some individuals:

  • High-fat Foods
  • Chocolate
  • Alcoholic Beverages
  • Mint
  • Citrus Fruits and Juices
  • Tomato Products (i.e. tomato juice,
  • Carbonated Beverages
  • Coffee (regular or decaffeinated)

If you tend to experience heartburn, it may be beneficial to keep a food record to see if any particular foods seem to aggravate the condition for you.  Then you will have a better understanding of which foods to avoid so you can minimize symptoms of GERD, and potentially more serious complications, in the future.

Reference:  Nutrition Management of Gastroesophageal Reflux.  Manual of Clinical Dietetics.  2000; 453-455.