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Healing foods to combat acid reflux

Acid reflux affects one-third of the Americans today, and 15 million Americans experience symptoms daily. You’re not alone if you suffer from a burning in your chest, difficulty swallowing, regurgitation of food or a lump in your throat. All these symptoms can be related to heart burn or GERD – gastroesophageal reflux disease.

The pain associated with these conditions is so severe they’ve been mistaken for heart attacks. GERD is a more serious form of acid reflux and is the most common digestive disorder in the United States. As a dietitian who specializes in digestive health, it’s important to see your medical doctor to get an appropriate diagnosis based on your symptoms.

But the key is to not stop there.

Over-the-counter medications can provide short-term relief for harsh symptoms, but they are not long-term solutions to fix the underlying cause. In fact, if overused, these medications can even lead to other digestive problems.

When you’re dealing with acid reflux, heartburn or GERD, you can use food to manage and repair and increase function in the esophagus and stomach.

You may have heard that GERD and heartburn are caused by too much stomach acid, but for many people, these ailments can be attributed to too little stomach acid. The stomach was designed to disinfect our food with lots of stomach acid. So, when you have too little stomach acid, you have a greater chance of developing bacteria overgrowth and not digest your food completely, which makes symptoms worse.

Besides bacteria overgrowth, the problem also lies in the small sphincter (think of it as a lid) that is the connection between your lower esophagus and the harsh acid in the stomach. When this sphincter malfunctions, the harsh stomach acid can flow into the delicate esophagus and cause these unpleasant symptoms.

Here are a few natural ways to improve the symptoms of GERD and heart burn:

  • Eat a low-carbohydrate diet, especially while on stomach-acid medication. Understand that grains, legumes and starchy vegetables feed bacteria and should be eliminated or at least held to a minimum in your diet.
  • Avoid highly inflammatory foods. Foods that are known to make symptoms worse are spicy or fatty foods, carbonated beverages, caffeine, refined sugar and carbohydrate-rich meals.
  • Eat smaller meals that can be more easily digested and prevent stomach acid from being pushed back into the esophagus.
  • Boost your intake of probiotic foods like raw unpasteurized sauerkraut, unpasteurized pickles, kefir and yogurt (small doses only). These foods help populate the good bacteria in your gut, which can reduce the symptoms.
  • Use bitter foods to increase digestive enzymes and stomach acid to improve better digestion. You can buy a tincture of several bitters or use bitter foods such as arugula, dill, dandelion greens, Jerusalem artichokes, kale, turmeric, ginger and Brussels sprouts at mealtime.

The pain and discomfort associated with GERD and heartburn are no joking matter. Using a food-based approach by removing the inflammatory harmful foods and increasing healing whole foods can minimize symptoms and boost digestion at the same time. This addresses the underlying cause of the digestive malfunction, so you can live a healthier and more heartburn-free life.

Fran Sutherlin, RD, MS is a local registered dietitian, specializing in using digestive wellness to prevent or manage chronic disease. She has a master’s degree in nutrition, is a personal health coach, speaker and owner of Sustainable Nutrition. She can be reached at 444-2122 or fran@fransutherlin.com.