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Acid reflux, GERD, heartburn- it can be a major pain, both literally and physically! Nothing ruins a meal like getting heartburn right after you eat or when you go to bed. Today we are going to share some dietary and lifestyle tips for preventing heartburn.

What is Heartburn?

Heartburn, acid reflux or GERD occurs when stomach contents leak upward from the stomach into the esophagus. The esophagus is the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach.  Stomach acid that leaks into the esophagus can cause a burning sensation or pain in the center of the chest. Heartburn can also cause hoarseness, chronic cough, stomach pain, and burning or build up of acidic fluid in the back of the throat.

What Causes Heartburn?

The esophageal sphincter is the valve between the esophagus and stomach that closes your stomach after you swallow and keeps stomach contents from refluxing back up into the esophagus.  Acid reflux happens when this valve doesn’t work properly. In some people this valve can become too loose due to lifestyle factors, such as smoking, excess body fat or eating certain foods. Although acidic or spicy foods can irritate the stomach, they do not cause heartburn. However, several foods can relax the valve that keeps your stomach closed. Other foods, such as high fat foods or large meals delay stomach emptying, which can also trigger heartburn. If you suffer from heartburn, you may want to take a close look at your diet to see if you’re eating any of the following potential trigger foods.

Foods that Can Cause Heartburn

These foods relax your esophageal sphincter, making it easier for stomach contents to reflux.

  • Coffee and tea, both regular and decaffeinated
  • Other caffeinated beverages, including energy drinks and soda
  • Peppermint or spearmint flavored products, including peppermint tea and gum
  • Garlic and garlic powder
  • Onions
  • Chocolate and baked goods with chocolate

These foods delay stomach emptying and cause stomach distention.

  • High fat foods- full fat dairy products, processed meats such as bacon, bologna, hot dogs or fried chicken and French fries
  • Baked goods- pastries, donuts, and high fat desserts
  • Carbonated drinks including sodas and seltzers
  • Cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower

These foods could irritate your stomach and precipitate symptoms.

  • Acidic foods
  • Tomato products
  • Spicy foods
  • Alcohol
  • Pepper

Other Lifestyle Tips

Since acid reflux is affected by body position, try to remain upright for 3 hours after you eat.  That means no late night dinners or snacks! If eating earlier is not possible, raise the head of your bed by at least nine inches.  Try placing wooden blocks under the bed legs or use a foam wedge underneath your mattress to elevate your chest. Avoid stacking pillows, as that is not effective. Eat 3 small meals and 1-3 snacks per day instead of eating 1-2 large meals per day. Also, slow down when you eat and try to eat in a relaxed environment to promote digestion. Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol. Also avoid wearing tight fitting clothing, such as high waisted belts or leggings.  Finally, achieving a healthy weight and participating in regular exercise can also help prevent heartburn.

Track Your Symptoms

Acid reflux affects individuals differently. You may find that some or all of these tips help, but each person has different triggers for heartburn.  Keep a food and symptom journal for a few weeks to figure out which foods or situations are the most bothersome for you. Talk to a Registered Dietitian if you need help figuring out how to avoid your trigger foods and find healthy replacements. If you already take medications for heartburn, these diet and lifestyle changes may help your medications be more effective. Talk to a gastroenterologist to figure out the best approach to manage your heartburn and prevent complications.