The New Heartburn-Friendly Diet
By Susan Male-Smith, R.D. for Live Right Live Well
As a heartburn sufferer, I’ve learned that particularly bad nights -- when intense chest pain wakes me up -- tend to make me leery of everything I eat for days afterward. Indeed, for years experts have believed that a heartburn-friendly diet means avoiding a long list of heartburn-trigger foods. But now research shows that eliminating all common trigger foods doesn’t necessarily relieve symptoms. Plus, what bothers one heartburn sufferer, like me, may not bother another, like you.
So forget blanket lists of heartburn-trigger foods to avoid. You need to find out what bothers you personally. Keeping a food diary, in which you track what you eat and how you feel afterward, can help with that.
Maintaining a record of my eating habits has helped me learn that it’s not so much what foods I eat but how I eat them that triggers my heartburn. On a good day, I might be able to enjoy a few chips with a fatty dip, a single spicy-hot Buffalo wing or a slice of chocolate manna masquerading as dessert, and it might not cause me problems. It’s when I’m at a special occasion, like a wedding, picnic or holiday get-together with family, that I’ll be tempted to eat a number of potential heartburn time bombs. And I’m likely to do so mindlessly, continuously and probably with an alcoholic beverage. That’s when the heartburn really kicks in.
I encourage you to keep a food diary of your own, so you can determine what eating patterns cause you heartburn. The top lessons I’ve learned:
- Don’t overstuff myself, especially close to bedtime
- Limit risky temptations, sampling just one, two -- OK, maybe three -- and then stop
- Have only one or two alcoholic drinks per outing
- Remind myself that I really don’t want to be suffering from pain come bedtime … and my reward for good behavior now will be a blissful, heartburn-free night’s sleep
Susan Male-Smith is a registered dietitian and freelance nutrition and health writer. She is a co-author of Foods for Better Health and former editor of the Environmental Nutrition newsletter. She has also written for Family Circle, Redbook, Child and American Health.
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