What do chocolate, pizza, and pasta al pomodoro have in common (other than being delicious)? They can cause heartburn. Are you groaning? Because we certainly are. As it turns out, the discomfort heartburn causes can be easily explained. “Normally, when a person eats or drinks, food and beverage flow down, and the lower part of the esophagus relaxes to allow the passage of the food and beverage into the stomach, and then it closes back,” says dietitian Maya Feller. “Heartburn happens when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) becomes weakened or relaxed without the presence of food or beverage passing. When this happens, the contents of the stomach can flow back into the esophagus, resulting in the burning sensation along with other symptoms."
What is Heartburn?
Heartburn is often a symptom of acid reflux. Though it can feel similar to other forms of indigestion, it is characterized specifically by a burning sensation in the chest that occurs when stomach acid makes its way into the esophagus. Other symptoms may include an unpleasant, acidic taste in the mouth and jaw pain.
Fortunately, there are ways to prevent heartburn, such as avoiding certain foods—including greasy and fatty foods—or making complete diet changes like eating smaller meals. If, however, you’re experiencing heartburn, there are also foods you could eat ASAP to relieve discomfort. Ready to get some heartburn relief? We turned to Feller as well as naturopathic physician Ralph Esposito and registered dietician Michelle Davenport for some answers.
Keep reading to learn how to ease heartburn with nine at-home remedies.
Eat Smaller, More Frequent Meals
Feller suggests eating smaller, more frequent meals, aka four to six light meals versus the typical breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This may wreak havoc on your holiday feasting, but according to Feller, smaller meals are easier to digest—and easier on the esophagus. Larger portions of food can cause stomach pressure and push acids up into the esophagus, causing heartburn. The goal of eating lighter portions more frequently is to reduce that stomach pressure.
To trick your body into feeling fuller quicker, try upping your intake of soluble fiber, proteins, and veggies.
Drinking Apple Cider May Help
If you're struggling with heartburn as a result of acid reflux, apple cider vinegar may be the answer. We know, we know. It seems counterintuitive to treat acid reflux with an acidic product, but many swear by drinking a bit of apple cider vinegar to help neutralize stomach acid and balance your intestinal pH. Not to mention, it contains antimicrobial properties that protect from many types of bacteria. Esposito suggests diluting two tablespoons of ACV with three to five ounces of water to reap the benefits. More research needs to be done to determine its effectiveness, but anecdotally this method has been proven to be effective.
Snack on Licorice
Licorice (yes, the ones from your childhood) can help give some serious heartburn relief. Research suggests that licorice root consumption can alleviate the symptoms of acid reflux, including heartburn, as it coats the stomach lining and protects the stomach from erosive damage. Not a fan of the sweet treat? You can also sip licorice tea to reap the benefits without any added sugar. Plus, many find the hot liquid soothing.
Having too much licorice can cause blood pressure levels to rise, so keep consumption levels to a minimum.
Avoid Trigger Foods
Certain foods may trigger your heartburn. To help decipher which foods those are, Feller suggests keeping track of what you're eating so that you can omit trigger foods from your diet. Culprits may include caffeine, chocolate, spicy foods, beer, and wine. Try keeping a log of everything you consume for a few weeks and record whether you develop symptoms afterward. You can also try an elimination diet to pinpoint exactly what foods set you off so that you can avoid them entirely.
Sip Fresh Pineapple Juice
Pineapple juice is brimming with benefits, not just for being a refreshing drink of choice during the scorching days of summer, but because it can help with easing reflux, too. “Pineapple juice contains an enzyme called bromelain, which will help digest proteins,” explains Esposito. Pineapple juice is also high in both fiber and water, two substances that can ease digestion. Not to mention, pineapple in general can help speed up your metabolism.
Skip Tight-Fitting Clothing
If you’re prone to heartburn, Feller suggests avoiding clothing that's too tight around the waist (think: skinny jeans and snug belts), as they can be extremely restrictive and apply pressure on the stomach, causing acid from your stomach to push up into the esophagus. Instead, reach for pants with a stretchy waistband or your favorite flowy dress if you know you're about to have a big, indulgent meal.
Try Ginger Tea
Another at-home remedy is fresh ground ginger tea, which Esposito says helps with digestion and is soothing to the stomach and intestines. Davenport suggests eating ginger on its own, which contains gingerol, an anti-inflammatory chemical compound good for soothing digestion.
Reduce Fat Intake
We don't mean to burst your bubble, but our experts agree that lowering the fat portion of your meal can help with heartburn. Why? Feller notes that fat takes longer to digest and can make reflux symptoms worse. That said, you shouldn't skip fats entirely, and contrary to what you may think, low-fat meals can actually be delicious. When your body is really craving fats, reach for healthier options like avocado, salmon, and olive oil as opposed to red meat, for example. When in doubt, chat with a nutritionist about what diet plan might be right for you.
Don't Lie Down Immediately After You Eat
This one can be tough to follow after a decadent meal. "Don’t lie down within two hours of eating,” cautions Feller. This means being mindful of your bedtime when you have your final meal. If you tend to crash on the couch after dinner, prop yourself upright with a few pillows so that your chest is positioned above your knees. You'll still get that essential relaxation post-food coma, but the position is less likely to bring on a bout of acid reflux.
Newberry C, Lynch K. The role of diet in the development and management of gastroesophageal reflux disease: why we feel the burn. J Thorac Dis. 2019;11(Suppl 12):S1594-S1601.
Yeh AM, Golianu B. Integrative treatment of reflux and functional dyspepsia in children. Children (Basel). 2014;1(2):119-133.
Pavan R, Jain S, Shraddha, Kumar A. Properties and therapeutic application of bromelain: a review. Biotechnol Res Int. 2012;2012:976203.