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Managing Heartburn with Diet

Most of us have experienced occasional heartburn, often after a big or spicy meal. What we experience -- called gastroesophageal reflux or reflux esophagitis -- occurs when acid stomach contents back up into the esophagus or throat. Symptoms vary greatly, but may include pain just below the sternum (breastbone), as well as feelings of fullness and pressure. Reflux is also sometimes associated with other gastrointestinal symptoms such as regurgitation, bloating and dyspepsia (indigestion). Symptoms can vary in intensity and can last for several hours.

What can you do to minimize heartburn? The most logical approach is to avoid those foods that cause you discomfort. Foods commonly associated with heartburn include:

  • High-fat, fried and rich foods
  • Coffee and other caffeine-containing drinks
  • Alcohol
  • Carbonated beverages (such as soda)
  • Citrus fruit and juice, including orange, grapefruit, lemon and pineapple
  • Vegetable juices
  • Spicy foods, especially dishes made with paprika, vinegar, and chili or jalapeno peppers
  • Tomatoes and tomato products
  • Peppermint and spearmint
  • Chocolate

If you need to, experiment with different foods to determine what foods are problematic, then avoid only the troublesome ones.

In addition, try the following tips to prevent or relieve your heartburn symptoms:

  • Eat small, frequent meals. Instead of eating three large meals, try to eat six times a day, dividing food into three smaller meals and three snacks.
  • Drink only a small amount of liquid at mealtime; get the fluids you need by drinking water or other liquids throughout the rest of day.
  • Eat enough fiber-containing foods (fruits, vegetables and whole-grain foods) to avoid constipation.
  • Avoid chewing gum and smoking immediately after a meal.
  • Stay upright when eating and don't lie down for at least two hours after a meal.
  • Don't eat within three hours before bedtime. Consider elevating the head of your bed.
  • If you're overweight, talk to your physician or dietitian about a healthy weight loss plan.

Most important, if your heartburn symptoms don't respond to self-treatment -- or they increase in frequency and severity -- contact your physician for a thorough medical evaluation. The pain could indicate a more serious problem.


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