Parade.com has an extensive editorial partnership with Cleveland Clinic, consistently named as one of the nation’s best hospitals in U.S. News & World Report’s annual “America’s Best Hospitals” survey. Click here to learn more about our health reporting policies.
More than 60 million Americans experience heartburn at least once a month, according to the American College of Gastroenterology, and an indulgent holiday season can up that frequency. If you’re one of them, you may want to consider a recent study, which found what you eat is just as effective as medication at easing the burning that can happen when stomach acid flows back into your esophagus.
Patients following the Mediterranean diet plan had fewer symptoms of heartburn, acid indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) than those taking proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), the primary medication prescribed for people suffering from acid reflux. A Mediterranean diet favors fish, fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts and is light on dairy and red meat.
What is heartburn?
If you’ve ever experienced a burning feeling in the center of your chest behind your breastbone, you’ve most likely experienced heartburn. Lasting anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, heartburn is uncomfortable, to say the least. According to the Cleveland Clinic, heartburn is technically a symptom of another condition, like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or pregnancy.
In addition to the burning feeling behind your chest, you may also have a sour taste in your mouth.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is very common: 20% of people in the U.S. struggle with it. GERD happens when acidic foods leak back into your esophagus on a regular basis. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “acid reflux happens because a valve at the end of your esophagus, the lower esophageal sphincter, doesn’t close properly when food arrives at your stomach.” This leads to acid backwash, which flows back up through your esophagus into your throat and mouth, giving you a sour taste.
Symptoms of GERD include heartburn, pain in the chest, hoarseness in the morning and issues with swallowing. While occasional heartburn or acid reflux is totally normal, if you’re experiencing it on a regular basis, you may be dealing with GERD.
While there are both prescription and over-the-counter remedies available for heartburn and GERD, altering your diet is a great place to start if you want to make lasting change. These key foods can help keep symptoms of acid reflux at a minimum, according to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD).
Opt for bananas, melons, apples and pears, which are less acidic than citrus fruits. Some research suggests bananas may help thicken mucus in the stomach and protect against painful ulcers, a common problem for people suffering from GERD.
Research shows that high-fiber foods, such as oatmeal and whole-grain bread, are linked to a reduced risk of acid reflux symptoms because they help absorb acid. Oatmeal is also high in selenium, which can help coat and protect your esophagus from painful acids.
Green and root vegetables
Potatoes, parsnips and sweet potatoes contain easily digestible fiber that can help neutralize stomach acid. Green vegetables such as spinach, kale and Brussels sprouts are alkaline and can help decrease stomach acid, too. Sweet potatoes are also a win on both fronts: sweet potatoes are part of an alkaline diet and also contain the digestible fiber ideal at managing the stomach acid that can cause GERD and heartburn.
What else is good for GERD?
The way you eat can be helpful when managing GERD and heartburn, the IFFGD found. Keep these tactics top of mind at mealtime to ease your symptoms:
After eating, gum helps increase saliva production and reduces the amount of acid in the esophagus.
Eat small portions
If your stomach gets too full or full too quickly, it puts extra pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter (the valve connecting the stomach and esophagus) causing acidic stomach juices to overflow into the esophagus.
Sit up straight
Good posture while eating and for at least two hours after a meal will keep gastric juices flowing in the right direction. Avoid eating a full meal less than three or four hours before bedtime.
Next, read about the anti-inflammation diet and discover how the foods you eat impact inflammation in your body.
- Journal of Thoracic Disease: “The role of diet in the development and management of gastroesophageal reflux disease: Why we feel the burn.”
- Cleveland Clinic: “What Is Heartburn?”
- Cleveland Clinic: “What is GERD?”
- International Foundation For Gastrointestinal Disorders: “Diet Changes for GERD”