If you have ever experienced heartburn, you’ll know that it is no joke. It’s not just annoying, but it’s actually quite a dangerous signal of your overall health.
Many years ago, I had heartburn that persisted over a few weeks and when I told my doctor about it she just waved it off and said that it was probably too much acidic foods and that she would prescribe me some medication for Acid Reflux. The medication worked, but as soon as I came off of it, the heart burn came right back. That was quite some time ago, nowadays I know a lot more about Acid Reflux and indigestion, and the types of foods and diets that bring about heartburn.
Most often, it’s not just one meal or food that does it, instead it is a series of meals and bad habits that create an acidic environment in the body by dropping the body’s natural pH balance to below 7.35. Acid forming foods are definitely a culprit, but most people don’t realize that it is not acidic fruits and foods like lemons, tomatoes and sauerkraut that disturb the alkaline balance of the body, but instead it is “acid-forming foods” such as processed foods and packaged goods that cause acidosis in the body and subsequent harm.
A low pH and acidic environment within the body is the perfect growing conditions for a bacteria called the Helico Pylori Bacteria (a.k.a H. Pylori) which inhabits the stomach and the esophagus. H.Pylori stimulates cells in the stomach to produce excessive amounts of gastric or hydrochloric acid which can make their way back and up into the esophogus causing “Heartburn” or Gastro-Esophogeal Reflux Disease (GERD). Doctors usually prescribe a heavy dose of antibiotics for H.Pylori, but since the antibiotics themselves can often do a lot of harm, eating the right foods can re-balance the gut to create an alkaline environment (not allowing the H.Pylori to thrive). I can honestly say that just by switching to whole foods and cooking at home, I have been able to experience better overall health, prevent heartburn and not take any medications whatsoever, which literally has me jumping for joy!
As for Acid Reflux medication, those just mask symptoms and can often have many side effects as well. My doctor should not have waved off my heartburn as if it were no big deal. It’s great that she recognized food could be a source of the problem, but she should have elaborated on what foods were actually “acid-forming” to the body and also advised me to see a nutritionist.
Preventing heartburn can be a way of preventing bigger problems down the road and since there are already lots of lists out there to help alleviate heartburn once you have it, I have instead created a list that will help balance your gut flora and keep you from experiencing heartburn in the first place.
5 ways to clean up your diet and keep heartburn at bay:
- Switch to whole foods – Ditch the foods that come in a prepackaged box and stick to fresh produce, eggs, meat, legumes and minimally processed whole grains (not flours, but whole kernels like basmati or jasmine rice, quinoa, spelt or buckwheat). Food products, meaning anything that is pre-packaged and processed, will do a number on your system as they are usually full of sodium, preservatives, dyes and other chemicals. Stay away from anything that has not been grown naturally in nature. This includes anything that comes in a box and has been labeled as “all natural” “healthy” “sugar-free” or “made from whole grains”. Yes, cereals are a no no, as are snack bars and most breakfast bars. The only processed food I encourage you to eat more of, is high quality, well fermented yogurt (and not the fruit on the bottom stuff). As you can imagine, switching entirely to whole foods can be very difficult at first, but preparing meals that you make from scratch ahead of time, and throwing easy to grab snacks such as nuts, plain Greek yogurt or sliced fruit can help keep you on track.
- Use coconut oil and other healthy plant based fats – Healthy fats and oils are necessary for energy production, brain and nerve function, and hormonal balance. Olive oil and nut oils are monounsaturated fats that raise good HDL cholesterol, lower bad LDL cholesterol, and protect against the buildup of plaque in your arteries. Just remember that you should not cook with monounsaturated fats as they have low burning points. Stay away from trans fats (fats created through a process in which hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to create a longer-lasting, solid-form fat) by avoiding margarine, shortening, foods that list partially hydrogenated vegetable oil as an ingredient and processed snack foods, such as doughnuts, store bought French fries, chips and cookies as well as commercially-prepared pie crust, and deep-fried foods not made at home. For cooking, use coconut oil as it is a saturated fat that is very stable under most cooking temperatures. Coconut oil is a medium chain triglyceride which makes it ultra resistant to oxidative damage and free-radical formation. It is quickly converted to energy (less likely to be stored in the body as excess weight) and is also a natural antibacterial that may help kill H.Pylori. Finally, you can eat but go easy with saturated fats that are derived from animal sources (such as butter or ghee) as this type of fat has been associated with an increased risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
- Don’t be afraid of tart fruit, even the pickled kind– Lemons, grapefruits, tomatoes and other acidic tasting fruit actually create an alkaline environment (and are not acid-forming) in the body. You see, tart fruit lose acidity upon consumption as the breakdown of these fruits during digestion produce an alkaline residue. As for foods like pickled plums, sauerkraut and pickled vegetables, they can contribute to a healthier gut flora since fermented foods provide beneficial bacteria that balance out the H.Pylori population in your stomach. Just beware that many of the fermented foods sold in stores are pasteurized, which kills off any beneficial bacteria, so be sure to check the label to see if it has been pasteurized or easily make some at home (here are some recipes for all kinds of pickled vegetables)
- Watch the sugar – The H.Pylori bacteria thrives in an acidic environment and sugar is a key contributor to acidity. There are added sugars and hidden sugars in practically every food product on the shelves, and I want you to notice how once again I use the term “food product”. By food products I mean foods that have been processed and packaged, such as crackers, cookies, snack bars and 100 calorie snack foods and so on. This means even breads and cereals are included in this group and you should really stick to whole foods and produce to bypass any added sugars that you may not be aware of. This also means step away from sweeteners and athletic supplements. Yes you read that correctly, that bottle of pre-workout supplement, that protein bar or the post-workout protein shake that promises bigger, leaner muscles is actually a chemical laden, acid forming supplement that may wreak havoc on your body. Instead stick to eating real food that is grown in nature and minimally processed to get all of the complex nutrients your body needs to grow and sustain your muscles.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate… with water and chamomile tea – Our digestive systems continuously needs water to keep our blood pumping and our organs functioning while fending off germs and processing waste. Drink plenty of water (8-10 glasses) to keep your system in optimal shape so that when you are eating healthy, whole foods, your body can actually use your blood and organs to deliver the nutrients it extracts to the rest of your body. Add on 3-4 cups of chamomile tea throughout the day to help heal mucous membranes that have become inflamed from constant acid regurgitation.
Now remember, I am in no way a doctor, nor do I claim to be one. You should always seek the advice of your physician prior to following any of the suggestions presented above. These suggestions have helped me with my own personal heartburn issues and when creating performance nutrition plans for my clients, I only suggest the consumption of natural and healthy whole foods that follow the edicts of healthy nutrition. To learn more about how one of my clients has been feeling since following these suggestions, click this link to read his testimonial.
To Being Positively Heartburn Free,
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- Feldman RA, Eccersley AJ, Hardie JM. Epidemiology of Helicobacter pylori: acquisition, transmission, population prevalence and disease-to-infection ratio. Br Med Bull. 1998;54:39–53