Heartburn Relief: Diet and Lifestyle Help

My Diet Matters
heartburn relief

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 for heartburn relief. She stressed that the doctor noted it HAD to be whole milk. Since she was not interested in drinking whole milk, this recommendation fell on deaf ears. The recommendation was obviously not realistic for her. As it happens, it was also not really the best advice to take regarding managing heartburn. And she is not alone in trying to control heartburn. More than 60 million Americans experience heartburn at least once a month. Some studies have suggested that more than 15 million Americans experience heartburn symptoms on a daily basis.

Heartburn symptoms

You know if you have suffered from heartburn. Symptoms include a burning sensation in your chest, mouth, or both. Common factors contributing to heartburn include pregnancy, smoking, certain medications, obesity, alcohol, and diet.

Food factors and heartburn relief

heartburn relief with diet

Certain foods are known to aggravate heartburn. 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
  • Chocolate
  • 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
  • Alcohol

Lifestyle factors and heartburn

elevated head for heartburn relief

Make sure you eat a low-fat diet. Fat triggers the sphincter muscle to relax and allows stomach acid to reach the esophagus more easily. And, evaluate how much of the foods in the above list are a frequent part of your diet. Then, look at lifestyle factors which can have a significant impact on heartburn. By manipulating your daily habits, you can help to decrease your heartburn symptoms.

  • Manage your weight and lose weight if you are overweight.
  • Avoid overly large meals, eat smaller meals more often instead of stuffing yourself!
  • 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 looser fitting clothes.
  • Wait several hours to lie down after a larger meals.

Take away on heartburn relief

Avoiding the foods in the above list can offer heartburn relief. Not all foods will trigger heartburn in all people. Sometimes it is necessary to track your diet and symptoms. In addition to managing your food selection, be sure to avoid overly large meals and drink your fluids between meals if possible. Wear loose fitting clothes and and consider propping your head at night to help limit the acid from flowing up to your throat. Lastly, lose weight if you are overweight! For easy steps to start weight loss, check this out!

Taking these first steps to halting heartburn can be highly 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. 

Sue Rose, MS, RD, LDN

Sue Rose helps readers sort through the maze of nutrition information available to the public. As a seasoned clinical dietitian/nutritionist with decades of experience, her blogs attempt to educate and inform the public at a time when there is so much information it is often overwhelming to understand. Stay tuned for clarity on a variety of topics!


Use this information at your own risk. Although I am a licensed IL dietitian/nutritionist, I am not your dietitian. The information in my blog Chew on This located at www.mydietmatters.com is for educational and informational purposes only. It is also my own opinion and subject to change in the future. Please consult with your own medical professionals for individual treatment.