Heartburn is an irritation of the esophagus - the tube that connects your throat and stomach. It's caused by stomach acid. This leads to a burning discomfort in your upper belly or below your breastbone.

Despite its name, heartburn has nothing to do with the heart. Commonly, it is known as acidity. It is a major symptom of GERD. Heartburn is also sometimes felt as a bitter or sour taste in the mouth.

(Read more: How to control acidity)

Heartburn is commonly encountered after eating a heavy meal or laying down. The feeling can last for a few minutes or a few hours. However, if it occurs frequently, then it may be a sign of some serious health condition that may require medical care.

Diet plays a central role in controlling heartburn. By making the correct dietary choices you can alleviate or entirely prevent heartburn. It is important to note that different foods can trigger heartburn for different people. So you should observe very closely the effect different foods have on you.

Read on to know what you should eat and should not eat in heartburn. You’ll also find an easy to follow Indian diet plan.

  1. Foods to have: what should I eat if I have heartburn
  2. Food to avoid: what foods are bad for heartburn
  3. Other dietary tips for heartburn
  4. Indian diet plan for heartburn
  5. Doctors for Diet for Heartburn

Several easily available foods do a remarkable job of controlling acute heartburn such as vegetables such as ginger, fruits such as bananas and cooked apples, drinks such as coconut water and cold milk, and other low-acid or low pH foods. However, if you frequently get heartburn due to GERD, you should discuss your dietary requirements with your nutritionist.

Ginger

Ginger is known for its anti-gastric and anti-inflammatory properties. A compound known as gingerols is an ingredient present in ginger. Gingerol is the main reason that gives ginger its healing properties, whether for a normal cough and cold or various intestinal and digestive disorders. Ginger’s medicinal properties destroy bacteria which trigger acidity in the stomach. Along with that, it decreases inflammation, minimizes nausea, and calms the stomach muscles. Ginger is also an active ingredient in a variety of Ayurvedic medicines for acidity and indigestion. 

It can be eaten raw, in tea, or can be added to the food you cook. When suffering from severe indigestion and heartburn, drinking one tablespoon of ginger juice with two tablespoons of honey in warm water helps in reducing the acidity and heartburn symptoms. It also boosts your metabolism.

Fennel seeds

Fennel seeds contain a compound called anethole. This compound works as a soothing agent for the stomach and prevents spasms and flatulence. It is also full of vitamins, minerals, and vital dietary fiber that helps in proper digestion. As fennel seeds also contain anti-ulcer properties, it cools the lining of the stomach and helps in relieving constipation as well. Fennel seeds are also beneficial for tackling indigestion and acidity in pregnant women. During pregnancy, a lot of pregnant women suffer from severe indigestion. But their food choices may be quite restricted, as are medications.

Fennel seeds function as an effective natural remedy to control indigestion, acidity, and heartburn. Take 1-2 teaspoon of fennel seeds with 1 teaspoon of rock sugar to reduce the symptoms of heartburn. You can soak them in water instead, if you prefer. Fennel seeds can also be chewed for immediate relief.

Jaggery

Jaggery/ Gur is one of the oldest desserts in India. Due to its high magnesium content, jaggery helps boost intestinal strength. It aids digestion and makes the digestive system more alkaline in nature, thus reducing heartburn and acidity. Having a small piece of jaggery after a meal provides relief from acid reflux. Jaggery also helps maintain normal body temperature and cools the stomach.

Amla

Amla is an Ayurvedic ingredient and which has an overall calming effect on the body. This makes it a natural cure for heartburn. Amla is an excellent source of vitamin C, which helps in healing the injured stomach lining and esophagus. Having one amla daily can be beneficial for those with a stomach disorder. You can have amla as a chutneybharta, or candy.

Cooked apple

Apples are naturally high in acid-blocking plant-fibre pectin, a soluble fibre that can swell in your stomach and help to keep you feeling full. While the skins of apples can be harder to digest, cooking them softens the tough outer skin, turning a naturally sweet apple into the ideal breakfast food or tempting dessert. Try to have it as a healthy snack, dessert, or breakfast.

Aloe vera juice: Aloe vera is famous for its medicinal properties. It is usually used to get relief from skin infections and burns. The pulp of the aloe vera plant can also help to keep the gut clean and free from toxins. Besides this, aloe vera is known for its anti-inflammatory properties and is loaded with the goodness of vitamins and minerals, which relieve heartburn and cool down the body. Hence, it may provide you with quick relief in acidity.

Banana

Having a banana on an empty stomach can be helpful in controlling heartburn.  This superfood is considered to be alkaline food because of its high potassium content. A ripe banana can combat stomach acid and coat stomach lining to help prevent heartburn and other reflux symptoms. However, for some people, bananas can be a trigger, particularly if the banana is not yet ripe. So, observe carefully what effect it has on you.

Cold milk

It is a known fact that milk contains a high amount of calcium, which is an excellent source for bone health. But this calcium is also present in antacids available in drug stores. However, full-fat and hot milk might worsen the condition, which may lead to the release of more stomach acid. Therefore, cold, fat-free, or skimmed milk is helpful in heartburn. Make sure you do not add sugar, chocolate powder or other additives.

Cold water

When heartburn comes on strong, have a glass of cold water. It should calm the heartburn. A short 10-minute walk after you drink the water will help stabilize your body fluids.

Buttermilk

Chilled buttermilk is a useful antidote to heartburn. To get rid of heartburn, drink a glass of cold buttermilk with roasted cumin powder. Buttermilk contains lactic acid that neutralizes the acid formation in the stomach. Lactic acid further calms the stomach by lining it and decreasing irritation and acid reflux symptoms.

Moreover, buttermilk is a naturally occurring probiotic. Probiotics are excellent for good digestion. The good bacteria in probiotics prevent gas formation and bloating that often cause heartburn. It also allows the nutrients and foods to be digested and absorbed properly. This makes buttermilk very useful in maintaining good gastrointestinal health.

Coconut water

Coconut water balances the body pH. If the body pH is at acidic levels, drinking coconut water will help make it alkaline. It also helps produce mucus in the stomach, which protects the stomach from the harmful effects of excessive acid production. Since coconut is rich in fibre, it aids digestion and prevents the recurrence of acidity and heartburn.

Adding the right foods to your diet will go a long way in helping you control heartburn. But they can only do so much if you continue to eat the wrong foods along with them. There is very little ginger or coconut water can do if you’re also having coffee, alcohol, spicy fried food. So, more than knowing what to have, you need to know what foods are bad for heartburn:

  • Oily and fried food: Fried, greasy, and fatty foods can all cause heartburn and lead to reflux because they prevent the lower esophageal sphincter from fully tightening; this creates an opening for stomach acids to flow upward which can trigger heartburn.
  • Spicy food: Most of the spices contain a compound called capsaicin, which may slow the rate of digestion. This means food will sit in the stomach longer, which is a risk factor for heartburn.
  • Coffee and tea: Caffeinated beverages aggravate acid reflux. Opt for decaffeinated teas such as herbal tea, non-caffeine green tea, etc
  • Carbonated beverages: The bubbles expand in your stomach, creating more pressure and stomach pain. Choose plain water, buttermilk, or coconut water instead.
  • Chocolate: Chocolates have a trifecta of acid reflux problems: caffeine, fat and cocoa. Try to avoid it. If you crave chocolate, switch to jaggery.
  • Peppermint: Peppermint works as a trigger for acid reflux and heartburn. So try to avoid it. 
  • Grapefruit and orange: The high acidity of citrus fruits relaxes the esophagus sphincter and worsens symptoms.
  • Tomatoes: Avoid raw tomato, ketchup, and tomato soup - they’re all naturally high in acid which can worsen your condition.
  • Alcohol: This is a double whammy - alcohol not only relaxes the sphincter valve but also stimulates acid production in the stomach.
  • Late-night snacks: Avoid eating anything in the two hours before you go to bed. Also, you can try eating four to five smaller meals throughout the day instead of two to three large meals.

Remember that different foods can trigger heartburn for different people. So you should watch out which of these, or other foods don’t work for you.

Here are a few other dietary tips you should keep in mind:

  • Start your day with one glass of cold water and a banana. 
  • For starters, take more time while eating your meal and chew your food well.
  • Slightly decrease the portion size of your meals, even by one or two bites, especially dinner.
  • Don’t lie down after eating and skip the post-meal dessert if you are full.

Here is an easy to follow Indian diet plan which will be helpful in keeping heartburn at bay. If any of the foods trigger heartburn for you, discuss it with your nutritionist and get a customised diet plan made:

  • Early morning: cold water (1 glass) + banana (1)
  • Breakfast: besan paneer cheela (2) + green chutney (2 tbsp) 
  • Mid meal: cold buttermilk (1 glass) with a pinch of roasted cumin seeds
  • Lunch: khichdi (1-2 bowl) + curd (1 bowl) + salad (1 small plate) 
  • Evening tea: fennel seed tea (1 cup) 
  • Dinner: vegetable soup (1 bowl) + multigrain chapati (2) + toor dal (1 bowl) + any seasonal green vegetable (1 bowl)
  • Bedtime: cold milk (1 cup)

(Read more: Homeopathic medicines for heartburn)

Dt. Akanksha Mishra

Dt. Akanksha Mishra

Nutritionist
8 Years of Experience

Surbhi Singh

Surbhi Singh

Nutritionist
22 Years of Experience

Dr. Avtar Singh Kochar

Dr. Avtar Singh Kochar

Nutritionist
20 Years of Experience

Dr. priyamwada

Dr. priyamwada

Nutritionist
7 Years of Experience

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References

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  3. Shukla Akash, et al. Ingestion of a carbonated beverage decreases lower esophageal sphincter pressure and increases frequency of transient lower esophageal sphincter relaxation in normal subjects. Indian J Gastroenterol. 2012 Jun;31(3):121-4. PMID: 22791463
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  5. Lete Iñaki, Allué José. The Effectiveness of Ginger in the Prevention of Nausea and Vomiting during Pregnancy and Chemotherapy. Integr Med Insights. 2016 Mar 31;11:11-7. PMID: 27053918
  6. Koufman Jamie A. Low-acid diet for recalcitrant laryngopharyngeal reflux: therapeutic benefits and their implications. Ann Otol Rhinol Laryngol. 2011 May; 120(5): 281-7. PMID: 21675582
  7. Shapiro M, et al. Assessment of dietary nutrients that influence perception of intra-oesophageal acid reflux events in patients with gastro-oesophageal reflux disease. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2007 Jan 1; 25(1): 93-101. PMID:17229224
  8. Sarla Gurmeet Singh. et al. Saunf: Do we really need fennel seeds after a meal?. Journal of Medical Surgical Nursing Practice and Research. 2019 Sep; 2(1): 5–8.
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