Recently a student in a college nutrition class I teach raised her hand to contribute to a discussion on heartburn. She indicated that her doctor told her to drink whole milk to help her heartburn. She stressed that the doctor noted it HAD to be whole milk. Since she was not interested in drinking whole milk, this recommendation was not followed through on by the student. The recommendation was neither realistic for her, and probably not really the best advice to take anyway with regard to managing heartburn. And, she’s not alone in trying to control heartburn. Surveys suggest 25-40% of the population experience heartburn on a monthly basis and 7-10% have the problem almost daily.
You know if you have suffered from heartburn. Symptoms include a burning sensation in your chest, mouth, or both. You may actually have a burning sensation in either your chest, mouth, or both areas. Your throat may be sore and you may even vomit food and bile.
Common factors contributing to heartburn include: pregnancy, smoking, certain medications, obesity, and alcohol.
Food factors to consider for control
Certain foods are known to aggravate heartburn. Take a look at the following list of foods and evaluate if your symptoms are worse when you eat these foods.
- Citrus fruits (limes, lemons, oranges, grapefruit)
- Spicy foods
- Caffeinated food (coffee, soda pop, tea)
- High fat foods (salad dressing, oil, butter, margarine, fried foods, rich desserts)
- Raw onions and garlic
- Tomato based foods
- Peppermint or spearmint oils (sometimes recommended for irritable bowel syndrome)
- Lots of sugar
Lifestyle factors and heartburn
By manipulating your daily habits, you can help to decrease your heartburn symptoms.
- Make sure you eat a low fat diet. Fat triggers the sphincter muscle to relax, and allows stomach acid to more easily reach the esophagus.
- Avoid alcohol as much as possible.
- Mange your weight and lose weight if you are overweight.
- Avoid overly large meals-instead eat smaller meals more frequently.
- If necessary, prop your head up with multiple pillows at night. This makes it a bit more difficult for the acid to back up into your esophagus.
- Drink liquids between meals, instead of with your meals.
- Wear loose clothes.
- Wait several hours to lie down after a larger meal.
Taking these first steps to halting heartburn can be very effective. You can always consult with a dietitian as well. If your symptoms persist even after diet and lifestyle adjustments, you should see your physician for medical management of your problem.