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HEARTBURN is enough to discourage you from eating. Most of us have experienced the horrible burning sensation from time to time, but many people do suffer from a condition called GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).

Along with any medication your GP may prescribe, there are a few dietary changes and habits that can also help ease the symptoms.

After we swallow food, it passes into our esophagus and triggers a valve at the top of our stomach called the esophageal sphincter. When it opens, it lets food into our stomach where it mixes with stomach acid and digestive enzymes to break down our food before it makes its way to our small intestine where we absorb nutrients.

Normally this sphincter protects the esophagus from stomach acid, but sometimes food and acid can push the wrong way and cause acid reflux or heartburn. It’s normal to have heartburn from time to time, but it’s important to talk to your GP if it happens often.

Here are a few things that might help soothe the burn.

CHEW YOUR FOOD

When we eat too quickly and chew our food improperly, we are more likely to suffer from reflux and indigestion. Switch from fight-or-flight mode (the sympathetic response) to rest-and-digest mode (the parasympathetic response) at mealtimes to help prepare your body for digestion.

Digestion starts in your mouth, so take the time to break it down so it’s ready for the next stage of digestion when it meets the acid in your stomach.

Sit at the table and never eat standing up. This way you will have a better posture to add digestion.

Don’t multitask when eating a meal. Turn off your cell phone, TV, and other devices.

Breathe before taking a bite. This will help shift your nervous system into rest and digest mode and make digestion more efficient.

Once you’re done eating, take a moment to relax and allow your body to digest, rather than rushing to the next thing.

FOODS TO AVOID

Certain foods have been shown to trigger reflux and indigestion, so eliminating them from your diet may be helpful.

  • Spicy foods like chilli and curry
  • Soft drinks, fruit juices and syrups
  • Coffee
  • Chocolate
  • Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, pastries and cookies.
  • processed foods
  • Alcohol
  • Tomatoes
  • Citrus

Some people have sensitivities or intolerances to other foods. An elimination diet can help you figure out which foods or drinks are triggering symptoms in you. Make a list of all the foods that you think trigger indigestion in you. Then remove them from your diet, ideally for about four weeks.

Once you’ve given your body a rest from suspected triggers, you can start reintroducing these foods, but do it one food at a time and wait three or four days before trying another food. Write down the foods you reintroduce and any reactions you have.

If you do not react, bring this food back into your diet again. If you react, try cutting it off for a month or so before trying the reintroduction phase again.

FOODS TO EAT

High Fiber Foods – foods high in fiber help slow things down and are important for the health of our digestive tract from top to bottom. It’s important to eat fiber-rich foods like fruits and vegetables, flax and chia seeds, whole grains (especially oats) and legumes – peas, beans and lentils.

Anti-inflammatory foods – colorful fruits and vegetables (again), ginger and turmeric, oily fish, olive oil and nuts and seeds contain nutrients with anti-inflammatory properties.

slippery elm is a traditional remedy, found at your local health food store, that can be mixed into a drink or taken as a supplement to help soothe the digestive tract.