Calorie-laden meals, decadent treats, and festive drinks inundate people from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, inviting the fiery sensation of heartburn and bitter taste of reflux as unwelcome guests to the holiday festivities.
Approximately 20 percent of the American population has gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Heartburn is the most common symptom of GERD. Kari Kooi, registered dietitian at Houston Methodist Hospital, explains how you can avoid this unpleasant sensation while partaking in holiday fun. Aside from losing weight — as little as five pounds — to alleviate acid reflux symptoms, Kooi has some other suggestions.
• Skip the After-Dinner Mints – Peppermint relaxes the muscles between the stomach and esophagus, which can allow stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus. While reflux triggers vary from person to person, other common triggers include tomato-based products, citrus fruits and juices, spicy cuisine, high-fat foods, chocolate, alcohol and caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea and soda.
• Chew Gum – Popping a piece of sugar-free gum into your mouth after eating can alleviate reflux because chewing gum stimulates acid-neutralizing saliva production. The more frequent swallowing that chewing gum encourages helps to quickly clear acid from the esophagus. Steer clear of mint-flavored gum and choose fruit or cinnamon-flavored gum instead.
• Enter “Rest and Digest” Mode – Stress runs rampant during the holiday season, and stress can exacerbate acid reflux. “Fight or flight” mode is the body’s reaction to stressful situations while “rest and digest” mode activates calmness and promotes proper digestion of food, which reduces the risk of reflux. Taking a few slow, deep rhythmic breaths before eating a meal is a powerful strategy for eating in a relaxed state. Cultivating mindfulness by eating slowly and being fully aware of the present moment can also help you access “rest and digest” mode.
• Take a Short Walk – While it’s tempting to lie down after indulging in holiday fare, the best thing for preventing reflux is a post-meal walk to help gastric juices to flow in the proper direction. Wait at least two hours after eating before lying down to allow time for food to go down and practice portion control techniques such as eating from a smaller plate, as overeating is a major trigger for reflux.
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