The meal may be over, but the feelings linger: heartburn, a bitter taste in the mouth, chest pain, and a bloated belly – acid reflux can feel uncomfortable and even painful, making for a sour end to a delicious meal. However, the foods we eat (or avoid!) have a major impact on the way we feel after eating. Keep reading to learn the science behind what foods to eat more of, and why we should eat them, in order to keep heartburn to a minimum. Here's to an enjoyable eating experience, from start to finish. Let’s use nutrition science to make heartburn a thing of the past.
What is Acid Reflux?
When we eat, our food passes through our esophagus and into our stomach. Normally, the esophageal sphincter – a band of muscle fibers at the base of the esophagus – lets food into the stomach and then closes back up to avoid the backflow of stomach acid. This action protects the esophageal lining from breaking down due to the potent acidity of stomach acid and prevents us from feeling any heartburn symptoms.
When the esophageal sphincter does not close properly, food and liquid can move backwards through the loosened opening and into the esophagus, causing acid reflux. It’s possible that heartburn occurs every so often, and food, alcohol, and even the position we’re in while eating all play a role. However, 20% of adults in the United States have chronic acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal disease (or GERD), meaning these symptoms occur after each meal.
Eating to Reduce Heartburn
Heartburn is a byproduct of food consumption, so what we put in our body, and even how we eat, makes all the difference. Dietary tweaksreduce the frequency and intensity of symptoms such as heartburn, leaving us feeling much better after eating. But, everyone’s body is different, so some trial and error is involved here to figure out which foods work best.
A 2018 study in the World Journal of Gastroenterology found that high fiber consumption is positively associated with decreased symptoms of GERD. High fiber foods make us feel more full, decreasing our risk of overeating. Eating too much or too quickly can contribute to acid reflux due to the heightened amount of stomach acid released to break down the food. Moreover, oatmeal, particularly, absorbs stomach acid, making it a great heartburn-fighting food. Other high-fiber options include: whole-grain bread, brown rice and quinoa, as well as green vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli and brussels sprouts.
Bananas are an alkaline fruit, meaning they’re low in acid. They help neutralize the acid in our stomachs and coat the esophageal lining, decreasing irritation. Additionally, they’re high in pectin, a soluble fiber that encourages the passage of food through the digestive tract. Other alkaline foods include melons, like cantaloupe and honeydew, cauliflower, and almonds.
Yogurt soothes heartburn symptoms and packs a probiotic-rich punch. Both yogurt and milk coat the lining of the esophagus, preventing stomach acid from deteriorating it. Yogurt is also rich in probiotics, which promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria, which aids in digestion and increases the absorption of nutrients. Opt for skim or low-fat dairy varieties, rather than ones made from whole milk.
Salmon is full of nutrients, more specifically omega-3 fatty acids. Along with lean proteins, like chicken and turkey, salmon is easy to digest and won’t spend too long in the stomach, thereby reducing the risk of reflux. Make sure to remove the fatty skin and opt for baking, broiling, or grilling instead of frying. Try adding in fresh herbs, like parsley and basil, for flavor instead of spices.
Like bananas, salad greens are alkaline; they’re easy on the gut and won’t lead to painful gas or reflux. A 2017 study found that individuals who consume a plant-based Mediterranean diet high in leafy greens reported less frequent acid reflux symptoms. Choose spinach, romaine, kale, or arugula and fill your plate with these greens first. Make sure to skip out on high-fat dressings and acidic vinaigrettes which are known to cause reflux.
Nutrition is a key facet of wellness, from our overall health to more complicated conditions, like heartburn. But, when we eat these foods and incorporate them in conjunction with the other parts of our wellness routines, the results surely show for themselves.
Disclaimer: This blog post is purely informational and does not imply any evaluation by the Food and Drug Administration. This blog post is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent diseases, nor should it substitute for advice from a healthcare professional.