If you’ve ever dealt with that debilitating sting of heartburn, you already know it’s literally a pain to deal with in more ways than one. Heartburn is actually not caused by your heart but instead by the pressure on the esophagus after you eat. Any time it can’t process what goes in properly, acid reflux, indigestion, and heartburn are the immediate result as these foods get pushed back up through the esophagus.

Common culprits of heartburn are spicy foods, but there are other  triggers as well. Shockingly enough, though a glass of milk is recommended for heartburn, acidic dairy milk is not the best option. During a heartburn attack, you want to focus on neutralizing the acid and reducing the pain associated with it, not contributing to more acid production. Milk may coat the stomach but it’s not helping your body in any way, form, or fashion.

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Here are some common foods known to cause heart burn problems, and some better suggestions to include in your diet to prevent heartburn from coming on in the first place.

Foods to Avoid:

High Fat Foods (Especially Animal-Based)

Foods rich in fat may taste yummy, but they’re common causes of heartburn for many people. Animal foods are the worst problem since they’re hard to digest, richer in saturated fat, and loaded with cholesterol, but even some healthy fats like nuts, seeds, and oils can all cause heartburn too. Fats sit in the stomach much longer than other foods do, which puts pressure on the stomach muscles during digestion and can cause irritation. Heavy amounts of fatty foods also weaken the LES muscle in the stomach, which is what keeps acids moving in the right direction (aka out of your body, not back in!) When the LES muscle is weakened due to an overwhelmed digestive system, acids find their way back up through the esophagus quickly. Avoid too much fat, from any source during one meal. This will prevent heartburn in the future and will also speed up digestion at the same time.

Heavy Meals

Heavy meals also trigger heartburn because the stomach can’t process all the food as quickly as it can normal-sized meals. This stretches the stomach and puts a great deal of strain on the LES muscle, which once again, allows acids back up through the esophagus, leading to heartburn. Animal foods will sit in the stomach much longer than plant-based foods, however, so don’t feel bad if you’re craving a  huge salad or a mean bowl of sweet potato soup. Just be sure to eat enough until you’re full and save the rest for later.

Too Much Chocolate

Chocolate gets a bad rap for heartburn, but it’s only too much chocolate that causes a problem, likely due to it being high in fat. High fat milk chocolate is definitely not the best option, so go for more cocoa or cacao powder, or a few raw cacao nibs instead. Chocolate is naturally acidic by nature as well, so if you’re especially sensitive, you may not be able to tolerate it in any form aside from Dutch-processed (dark) cocoa powder, which is naturally alkalized during production.

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Tomato-Rich Foods

Tomato-rich foods like salsa, marinara, and other spicy sauces may also cause heartburn because they’re acidic by nature. Though you may digest them fine, the extra acid may be contributing to your heartburn problem. Be sure to eat more raw tomatoes, which are alkalizing instead. Top your salad with them or stuff your potatoes with them – either way, raw tomatoes are a much more friendlier option.

Alcohol and Coffee

Alcohol and coffee also weaken the LES muscle which may contribute to more acidity in your body. Remember, you don’t want acids flushing back up in the wrong direction, so take care of that LES muscle by eliminating alcohol and coffee. Some people may tolerate low-acid forms of coffee, which surprisingly work very well in preventing heartburn and stomach pain from occurring. Sorry, but alcohol is just out altogether, folks!

Some other foods to avoid include: raw onions and garlic, black pepper or other spicy foods, certain citrus fruits (except lemons which are alkalizing), baked and fried foods, and most forms of high fat dairy, all eggs, and meat.

Foods to Enjoy:

Lucky for you, most all plant-based foods are excellent for taking care of your digestion and preventing heartburn. Eat a variety of leafy greens, green vegetables, root vegetables, fresh fruits, whole grains, beans and legumes and small amounts of avocados, nuts, seeds, and plant-based oils (if any.) Season your meals smart by using non-acidic spices such as cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, cardamom, basil, oregano, parsley, and cilantro in place of lots of peppery choices like chili powder and black pepper. Experiment with condiments to see which ones you tolerate and which ones you don’t.

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Green juices, smoothies, salads, some soups, and raw fruits and veggies are all excellent heartburn-preventative choices as well. For a magical, quick relief, raw apple cider vinegar is a wonderful beverage to take after meals or with meals to prevent heartburn and assist in digestion. If you feel the burn, take a tiny swig of apple cider vinegar or dilute it in some water for relief within minutes.

Other Tips

Other factors also play a part in heartburn prevention. Make sure to exercise, which helps move food along the stomach and assist in digestion, and be sure to eat at least two-three hours before bed so you’re not lying down with a full stomach. This weakens the LES muscle, while sitting up can help keep food and acids moving in the right direction (out of your body.) Stress and eating on the go may also trigger heartburn and indigestion so give yourself enough time to eat and digest a meal properly (at least 30 minutes.)

Life with heartburn is a real sting – lighten the load with these tips and avoid those chalky, pricey heartburn OTC remedies if you can. Food is nature’s best medicine; use it smart so it can work hard for you in all areas of your health, heartburn prevention included.

Image Source: Emiliano De Laurentiis/Flickr

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