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Food-Related Strategies for Heartburn Prevention

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Heartburn (GERD) related image Photo: Getty Images

Stress and anxiety are often part of the equation in frequent heartburn. But say you’re humming along on a fairly low-stress lifestyle and you still get heartburn or its angrier cousin, gastroesophageal reflux.

Sometimes it’s the foods you are eating that are setting it off. Heartburn sufferers react differently to different foods. Common offenders, however, are caffeinated beverages, alcohol, chocolate, peppermint, citrus, tomato sauces, spicy foods and fatty meals. Could it be, though, what you’re NOT eating? With a bit of trial and error, you might come across foods that actually prevent that burning sensation in your chest.

Two foods frequently mentioned on medical websites are papaya and pineapple for their ability, through digestive enzymes, to break down proteins from meats or plants. If you aren’t eating these tropical fruits, you can buy supplements of papaya and pineapple from health food stores.

The site heartburn-remedies.com suggested eating meat and vegetables that have been thoroughly cooked, either through steaming, boiling or stewing in a crockpot. The site also liked the idea of chewing gum after large meals to promote saliva production since saliva fights acid reflux.

Try these ideas one by one and see if any of them lower the burn. Realize that heartburn doesn’t always announce itself right after a big meal. Medical experts say it can surface throughout the day.

The latest data from the American College of Gastroenterology show that 60 million Americans suffer from heartburn-related symptoms once a month, and 15 million Americans put up with heartburn daily.

Gastroesophageal reflux (GER) and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are heartburn kicked up a notch -- or more. A diagnosis of GER or GERD means that stomach acids are repeatedly irritating the lining of your esophagus and that the condition might escalate into something more serious. There might be a weakness in the lower esophageal sphincter that is supposed to prevent stomach acids from re-entering your esophagus, or your stomach might be overproducing acids.

Some acid reflux is normal, but symptoms that occur more than twice a week and fail to respond to over-the-counter products are cause for seeing a health care practitioner, said the American College of Gastroenterology.

In its chart of “Diet and Lifestyle Modifications” to alleviate heartburn, the ACG not only lists a number of foods and beverages to avoid, but also recommends measures such as: eating smaller meals, even if it means eating more frequently; quitting food for the day two to three hours before bedtime; maintaining a normal weight; quitting smoking; and elevating the head of your bed 4 to 6 inches.

Studies on GER and GERD prevention continue. In the meantime, though, the above-mentioned ideas are doable. While you’re conducting your own trial and error studies into “safe” foods, you might want to keep a food diary.


"Heartburn or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease." American College of Gastroenterology. Web. 2 Nov. 2011.

“Heartburn Or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).” The American College of Gastroenterology. Web. 10 Oct. 2011. http://www.acg.gi.org/patients/women/whatisgerd.asp

“Heartburn Prevention: How to Prevent Heartburn.” heartburn-remedies.com. Web. 10 Oct. 2011. http://www.heartburn-remedies.com/how-to-prevent-heartburn

Reviewed October 27, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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