Eat this, not that, to avoid holiday heartburn


by Baylor Scott & White Health

Dec 5, 2023

The holiday season is a time for joy. However, for many people, it can also be a time for heartburn. Pie, gravy, potatoes, cookies — many of the foods traditionally served at holiday meals are also some of the hardest to digest. And unpleasant heartburn symptoms can put a damper on your holiday celebrations.

While heartburn can be uncomfortable, there are ways to avoid it during the holidays and still enjoy the festivities. Here are a few suggestions.

Festive feasting without heartburn

One of the main causes of heartburn is certain foods and drinks. Spicy and acidic foods, such as tomato sauce, citrus fruits and hot peppers, can irritate the esophagus and trigger heartburn. Fried and fatty foods, like fried chicken and French fries, can also cause heartburn by slowing down digestion and increasing stomach acid production. Alcohol, especially red wine and beer, can relax the lower esophageal sphincter, allowing stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus.

This holiday season, instead of spicy and acidic foods, opt for milder options like roasted vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. Avoid fried and fatty foods in favor of grilled or baked options. When it comes to drinks, stick to water or non-acidic beverages like herbal tea or coconut water.

Navigating GERD during the holidays

For those who have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a chronic form of acid reflux, avoiding heartburn during the holidays can be especially challenging. GERD occurs when your stomach contents, including acid or bile, wash back into the esophagus. The acid can erode the lining of the esophagus, which not only causes discomfort, but can also lead to serious complications.

In addition to following the tips above, there are a few specific things that you can do to avoid heartburn. This holiday season, stick to these guidelines:

  • Avoid certain foods including spicy foods, fatty and fried foods, chocolate, peppermint, citrus foods, mustard and tomato products.
  • Opt for water and steer clear of alcohol, caffeine and sodas.
  • Choose light turkey meat rather than dark meat, which contains more fat and oils that exacerbate symptoms.
  • Stick with low-calorie dessert options and avoid chocolate, if possible.
  • Pay attention to portion sizes. Instead of making a huge plate, eat in smaller quantities throughout the day.
  • Ditch the post-meal nap. Sleeping right after eating can increase GERD symptoms. Instead of falling asleep, try going for a walk to help your digestion.
  • Improve lifestyle choices. Stop smoking, exercise and reduce your stress if possible.
  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day instead of large meals. This can help prevent stomach acid from building up and flowing back into the esophagus.
  • Elevate the head of your bed by six to eight inches to help prevent stomach acid from flowing back into the esophagus while you sleep.

More than food choices

In addition to watching what you eat and drink, there are other things you can do to avoid heartburn during the holidays.

  • Avoid eating too close to bedtime. Eating a large meal and then lying down can increase the risk of heartburn. Instead, try to eat at least two to three hours before bedtime.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing. Tight clothing, especially around the waist, can put pressure on your stomach and increase the risk of heartburn.
  • Try to manage stress. Stress can increase stomach acid production and make heartburn worse.
  • Take time to relax and enjoy the holiday season.

Savor the season

Heartburn doesn't have to put a stop to your holiday celebrations. By being mindful of what you eat and drink, following specific tips for people with GERD and making a few lifestyle changes, you can avoid heartburn and still enjoy all the festivities. Remember to take care of yourself and have fun!

If you are experiencing symptoms of GERD, there are many treatment options, including lifestyle modifications, medications and surgery. Talk with your doctor about what’s right for you, or find out more

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