Heartburn prevention is important and may easily be achieved through certain lifestyle and dietary changes. Heartburn, also known as acid reflux, is a condition where the muscles of your oesophagus don’t work properly, causing food and acids from the stomach to flow back into your oesophagus.
Heartburn is fairly common and everyone has had it at some point in their lives. While occasional heartburn is nothing to worry about, you need to seek medical attention when it occurs more than once a week, is severe or occurs at night causing you to wake up from your sleep, as it may indicate you have developed gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD).
Heartburn prevention, therefore, is crucial to keeping your chances of developing GORD low. It’s important to identify lifestyle and dietary habits that cause acid reflux or aggravate your pain and discomfort so that you can avoid such habits.
The major cause of heartburn is the inability of the lower oesophageal sphincter, a band of muscle around the bottom of your oesophagus, to tighten each time food passes through to the stomach. When you swallow, it’s normal for the lower oesophageal sphincter to relax and allow food and liquids to flow down into your stomach and then tighten the muscle right after.
If your oesophageal sphincter relaxes abnormally, is weak or damaged, stomach acid can flow back up into your oesophagus and cause heartburn.
The type of food you eat or beverages you consume can affect the amount of acid your stomach produces. One method of preventing heartburn, therefore, is to eat the right kind of food or consume the right type of liquids to control acid reflux or to avoid developing GORD.
You must also identify how your body reacts to each type of food before you follow the listed food habits.
Food that may reduce symptoms of heartburn (provided there are no contraindication to consuming these)
Certain food items may help you manage your symptoms or soothe your discomfort. These may include:
- Vegetables: Naturally low in fat and sugar, vegetables may help reduce the build-up of stomach acid and support heartburn prevention. Good options may include green beans, broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, leafy greens, potatoes, and cucumber.
- Ginger: Ginger has natural anti-inflammatory properties, so it may help with heartburn prevention. You can add sliced or grated ginger root to recipes to ease symptoms.
- Whole-grain food: Some research suggests that a high-fibre diet is linked with a lower risk of heartburn. A breakfast favourite, oatmeal is a whole grain and an excellent source of fibre. Other fibre options include whole-grain bread and whole-grain rice.
- Non-citrus fruits: Consume non-citrus fruits such as melons, bananas, ripe, red apples, and ripe pears to reduce the risk of triggering symptoms of heartburn.
- Lean meats and seafood: Lean meats such as chicken, turkey, fish, and seafood are low in fat, which may support heartburn prevention. You could grill, broil, bake or poach them for consumption.
Egg whites: While egg whites may be a good food option for heartburn prevention, egg yolks, which are high in fat, may trigger acid reflux.
Healthy fats: To balance your diet of low-fat food, it may be helpful to add sources of healthy fats. These may include avocados, walnuts, flaxseed, olive oil, sesame oil, and sunflower oil. You may want to reduce your intake of saturated fats and trans fats and replace them with these healthier unsaturated fats.
In addition to heartburn prevention by controlling reflux symptoms with diet and nutrition, you can also manage symptoms with lifestyle changes. You may try habits and behaviours such as:
- Eat small quantities of food for meals
- Take your time and eat slowly
- To reduce reflux while you sleep, eat your meals at least 2 hours before bedtime
- Avoid wearing tight clothes
- Avoid drinking alcohol or smoking
- Chewing gum that is not spearmint or peppermint-flavoured may increase saliva production and reduce stomach acid
Request more information on dietary or lifestyle changes for heartburn prevention
There is no single proven method to reducing symptoms of heartburn or cure acid reflux. However, you may experience the increase of symptoms with certain food you eat or daily habits. It’s best to keep a journal to keep track of your dietary habits and identify specific food items that may increase your risk of heartburn.
Consult Dr Suhirdan Vivekanandarajah, an interventional gastroenterologist and hepatologist in Sydney, to find out more about the preventive methods of heartburn.
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