Avoiding heartburn: stopping the pain before it starts

From Texas-style BBQ and juicy slabs of steak, Texas is famous for its big meals and abundance of flavors. Unfortunately, overindulging in these same foods can trigger a painful case of heartburn. Once you’ve experienced the symptoms of heartburn, chances are you’ll want to do everything possible to avoid experiencing them again. Follow these five tips to reduce your risk of heartburn.

Tip #1: Watch what you eat.

Heartburn occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) relaxes, allowing stomach acid to reflux and enter your throat, causing a painful burning sensation. Certain foods, including tomatoes, citrus fruits, hot spices and peppermint, relax the lower esophagus, increasing the risk for heartburn. Cut out these trigger foods to avoid heartburn.

Tip #2: Cut the fat.

You already know that fried foods, meats high in fat and dairy products like cheese and ice cream aren’t the healthiest food choices. Not only do they lead to weight gain and increase your risk for heart disease, but they also take longer for your stomach to digest. The longer they linger in your stomach, the more pressure they put on the LES, and the greater your risk for heartburn.

Tip #3: Watch out for trigger food combinations.

Sure, tomatoes increase your risk for heartburn, but you’re probably fine with a small slice on your veggie sandwich. The real trouble comes when trigger foods are combined together, especially during a big meal. Throw down a few alcoholic drinks, inhale a couple of greasy pizza slices slathered in melted cheese, tomato sauce and sausage, and the next thing you know, you’ve got a miserable case of heartburn. Be aware of the foods you’re eating, and avoid combining trigger foods in the same meal.

Tip #4: Eat less and more often.

When you eat a big meal, especially one right before bedtime, your body struggles to digest the food. The longer food is in your stomach, the greater the chance that a trigger food can cause heartburn. A full stomach puts pressure on the LES, and lying down after a big meal also causes your food to press against the LES. This combination is the reason people typically experience heartburn after a big dinner.

Avoid heartburn by practicing moderation; eat four to five smaller meals throughout the day. Your body will have plenty of time to digest the food, you’ll feel full longer, and you’ll have more energy. An extra benefit? Eating smaller portions and four to five light meals throughout the day (rather than a few big ones) is a healthy lifestyle habit that can help lead to long-term weight loss.

Tip #5: Try a natural remedy.

Some people find that natural remedies, like apple cider vinegar mixed with water, fennel seeds or ginger root supplements can reduce or eliminate heartburn symptoms. These remedies are recommended once a day, or in conjunction with a meal that typically causes heartburn. Because some natural remedies can interfere with medications you may already be taking, be sure to talk to your doctor before beginning any natural treatments.

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