Heartburn happens, but for many people, it does not have to be a permanent condition.

Heartburn occurs when the muscular valve between the esophagus and the stomach relaxes and allows stomach acid to seep into the esophagus, resulting in that really uncomfortable burning feeling. With a few healthy changes and a little time, you can improve your symptoms and maybe even eliminate heartburn altogether.

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Avoid the obvious. There are certain foods that can increase stomach acid or cause the valve to relax, leading to more heartburn. Common triggers include: tomatoes, citrus fruits, garlic, onions, chocolate, coffee or too much caffeine, alcohol and peppermint.

If you eat something that repeatedly triggers discomfort, accept that this food is not working for you and let it go. Nothing tastes better than feeling well.

Eat lighter. Eating too much fat can lead to increased heartburn. Fats take longer to digest, which can increase stomach acid leading to more pain and discomfort. Lighten the fat in your meals by including at least three food groups per meal. Try these combinations of foods next time you eat out to better manage your heartburn:

  • Instead of a cheeseburger with french fries and soda, choose a side salad and water.
  • Instead of fried eggs, bacon and hash browns, choose two eggs with two slices of whole-wheat toast and a cup of fresh fruit.
  • Instead of pepperoni pizza with breadsticks, choose the salad bar and have a piece of veggie pizza.

Choose age-appropriate foods. As we get older, our digestive systems become less tolerant of grease and fried foods. We also need less food than we did in our younger days. If you are over 35, it is unlikely that you can still eat the way you could in your early 20s without dealing with the consequences. To settle into a more mature diet:

  • Limit meat, especially red meat, to about 4-5 ounces per meal.
  • Include ½ to 1 cup whole-grain carbohydrates such as brown or wild rice.
  • Fill half your plate with steamed vegetables or a colorful salad.
  • Finish your meal with a piece of fresh fruit instead of chocolate cake.

Eat more often. If you are not hungry in the morning, but you struggle with heartburn, you are most likely overeating at night. To change this habit, force a small, healthy breakfast into your morning. Over the course of a week gradually increase your morning and daytime meals and snacks. The ultimate goal is to work up to three meals and one to three snacks, including a balanced breakfast within one hour of waking up. Spreading your meals and snacks out reduces meal size and helps you stay ahead of your hunger. That makes it easier to choose healthy foods that do not trigger heartburn.

Drop a few pounds. Pressure from extra weight can cause the valve between your esophagus and stomach to not seal as tightly. Even a 5- to 10-pound reduction in your weight can reduce the pressure enough to prevent acid from seeping into the places it should not be. Try:

  • Reducing portions.
  • Lightening up meals by eating at least three food groups per meal.
  • Choosing more vegetables and fruits over french fries and desserts.

As your diet improves, you should experience less heartburn. As you feel better day-to-day, you may even have more energy to exercise again, which will also help with weight loss and better overall health.

Niki Kubiak is a sports-certified registered dietitian, competitive runner and owner of Niki Kubiak Sports Nutrition and Weight Loss. She blogs regularly for livewellnebraska.com.

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