10 things I learned about eating to naturally cure heartburn

The Canadian Digestive Health Association states that more than 5 million Canadians suffer from heartburn a year. Having struggled with the discomfort of acid reflux myself, I was thrilled when The Acid Reflux Solution landed on my desk.
By Robyn Shanks
Woman eating a strawberry Masterfile

The Canadian Digestive Health Association states that more than 5 million Canadians suffer from heartburn a year. Having struggled with the discomfort of acid reflux myself, I was thrilled when The Acid Reflux Solution landed on my desk. And judging by the commotion it caused around the office it’s safe to assume I’m not alone.

Written by Jorge E. Rodriguez, MD, with recipes compiled by Susan Wyler, MPH, RD this easy-to-navigate book not only comes with easily integrated tips, but yummy recipes like Cuban black bean soup and Asian barbecued chicken. If you, like so many Canadians, suffer even mildly from heartburn we recommend you take a look at some of these helpful suggestions to start getting your digestion back in order the all-natural way:

1. Raise the top of your bed. Though it doesn't involve eating, this is Jorge's first step when it comes to starting the fight against heartburn. Because most acid reflux happens while you sleep, he recommends tilting your bed so your chest is above your stomach (a minimum incline of 30 degrees).

2. “Always leave room for a little bit more.” Jorge recommends eating smaller portions more often throughout the day. A majority of the acid production in your stomach is caused when it stretches. The recipes in this book are calculated with portions in mind and designed to ensure you stay fuller longer. It may take a little while to get used to only eating until you’re satiated instead of waiting until you can’t take one more bite to stop.

3. Be mindful of when you’re drinking. Though many experts have said that drinking water during a meal keep you from overeating, for the purposes of heartburn, Jorge says not to drink anything for a half hour before or after eating. Liquids can cause your food to expand, further stretching your stomach regardless of whether you’re eating smaller portions or not. This stretching will increase the amount of acid produced when your stomach expands.

4. Chew, chew, chew. If you eat without even processing what’s going on, chances are you aren’t taking enough time to properly chew or digest your food. Jorge suggests counting to 20 before swallowing your food in order to a) break it up into small enough pieces and b) alert the body that it’s ingesting something. This also helps you to eat more slowly as well.

5. Alleviate pressure on your stomach. Whether it’s loosening your belt or wearing clothes that aren’t too tight around the waist, giving your stomach more room to digest will avoid the production of extra acid and ensure there’s no issue with food passing through the gut. And though we aren’t suggesting you show up to work in a pair of elastic-waist pants, a maxi dress or looser-fitting clothes are a good place to start.

6. Sit up straight. Your mother was right. Not only does sitting up straight help you appreciate your food (by looking at it while you eat you’ll be more mindful), it also stops your stomach from literally folding as you hunch over. Similar to the issue of a tight belt, you want to ensure there’s nowhere for food and acid to go but down (and out).

7. Wait it out post meal. Have a tendency to nap directly after eating? Jorge recommends waiting at least 35 minutes before indulging your food comma to ensure nothing heads back north. He suggests taking a quick walk around the block in order to aid digestion instead of stopping it in its tracks by lying down. The walk will also help waken you up if you’re feeling tired from overeating (see #2 to nip that in the bud).

8. Opt for crackers. If you’ve got to eat within three hours of going to bed (which Jorge does not recommend) he suggests opting for some soda crackers (“just to take the edge off”) instead of having a full meal. If you’re up all night with acid reflux you’ll create a vicious cycle the next day that will only perpetuate the issue when you wake up tired. Hunger is less likely to keep you up than acid reflux.

9. Take time for yourself. Stress and obesity are directly related to an increased risk of acid reflux so be sure you’re managing your mental and physical state. Getting in 30 minutes of exercise a day (even if it’s in 10 minute intervals) and taking time to relax can both ease symptoms. Quitting smoking and cutting back on alcohol fall into this category as well. “Nicotine is a major reflux trigger,” explains Jorge.

10. Know what you can and can not eat. On the top of the avoid list: fried foods, anything minty, chocolate (sorry ladies), processed meats, caffeine and carbonated beverages. As for the belief that tomatoes cause acid reflux? Not true says Jorge. In fact, he encourages readers to “eat like an Italian” promoting meals with lots of vegetables, fresh fruit (both of which have a lot of fiber), and smaller portions of pasta as great heartburn sufferers. And though red meat isn’t totally off the table, the least amount of it you can handle, the better.

For more suggestions on how to beat heartburn pick up, The Acid Reflux Solution, Random House, $25, available now.

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