Fire in Your Belly

Small changes in diet and lifestyle can go a long way in helping us lead an "acidity-free" life

Fire in your belly

  • Do you get a burning sensation in your chest after meals?
  • Is it worse on lying down or bending?
  • Is the sensation most often aggravated by food?
  • Is there frequent belching with a sour after-taste in the mouth?
  • Does an antacid provide relief to the above symptoms?

If you have answered yes to most of the above questions, it is likely that your "flaming" problem is heartburn.

Since most of us enjoy eating good food, it is obvious that a problem like heartburn does affect lives in a big way. Small changes in diet and lifestyle can, however, go a long way in helping one lead a near-normal life.

You may know of people who eat very spicy, greasy food and yet are not affected by heartburn. In some people, the valve between the oesophagus and the stomach is inherently weak so it allows the acidic contents of the stomach to spill upwards to the oesophagus. This acid spill causes a burning sensation in the area around the oesophagus. This is commonly called heartburn [acidity].

There are certain foods that increase the acidic content in the stomach and some others that weaken the stomach valve. These foods are best avoided or taken occasionally in smaller portion, to avoid heartburn.

Things to Avoid

Acidic food

Quite logically, sour foods like tomatoes, tamarind, and citrus fruits are in the avoid-list. They increase the acid production in the stomach due to their acidic nature.

Beverages

Avoid caffeinated beverages like cola, coffee and tea. Substitute your colas with healthier alternatives like coconut water or fresh buttermilk. The popularity of herbal teas is growing worldwide because it is caffeine-free and non-addicting. Herbal tea also bestows several other health benefits. Alcohol may be consumed occasionally in very small, limited quantities, or better still avoided.

Spicy foods

Biryanis, curries with chillies or chilli powder, and certain traditional cuisines can be high on heat. It is best to avoid these meals altogether or make heartburn-friendly variations by cutting down on spices and relying on flavour-adding spices such as cardamom, cinnamon and clove.

Deep fried and greasy foods

If you thought deep fried and fatty food cause only weight gain, there is more. They aggravate heartburn. Also, in the long run, obesity itself is a causative factor of chronic heartburn. Invest in an oven. Baking and roasting are some of the healthier cooking alternatives.

Chocolate and peppermint

While chocolate has been given the clean-chit in matters like headache, acne and increased cholesterol, it is still considered a trigger factor for heartburn. Chocolate contains concentrations of theobromine, which relaxes the oesophageal sphincter muscle, letting the acid from the stomach squirt up into the oesophagus. So, eat chocolate sparingly. Peppermint has a controversial role to play in heartburn. Since ancient times, it has been known to soothe upset stomachs and indigestion. Like chocolate, peppermint is known to relax the stomach muscles and the valve, resulting in acid reflux into the oesophagus. Use fennel [saunf] seeds, instead of peppermint, as an after-meals mouth freshener.

Lifestyle factors

Apart from food, heartburn has certain other aggravating factors. Smoking, obesity, pregnancy, medications like pain-killers and sleeping pills increase the incidence of heartburn significantly. The age-old ayurvedic way of eating dinner a few hours before bed-time is the key to preventing acid reflux at bed-time.

Eating-out guide

Having heartburn doesn't mean you can't enjoy a meal in a restaurant.

  • Choose steamed or grilled starters and request the staff to cut down on the spices. Clear vegetable or chicken soups are good for you. Stay away from tomato-based soups or soups with a lot of spice
  • Pastas? Go for pasta with a light mushroom-based white sauce or a pasta primavera without sauce. Make sure to request the staff to cut extra butter and cream from the white sauce. Ask for pizzas with moderate cheese and sauce topped with mushrooms and corn. Avoid tomato-based pasta sauces and rich desserts
  • In Indian cuisine, it is fine to eat mildly spiced tandoori [grilled] items instead of the deep-fried variety. Vegetables in light non-tomato-based gravy, breads like tandoori roti and light pilafs are almost trouble-free
  • If you choose a Chinese restaurant, steamed dumplings, wanton soup, dishes with mushrooms, bamboo shoots, stir fried or steamed dishes with fortune cookies for dessert, are safe options.

Conscious healing

Natural remedies like fennel seeds [saunf], or making herbal tea by steeping 1-2 tsp seeds in boiling water, has been known to reduce heartburn. Chewing ginger root is also known to be beneficial. Drink plenty of water and always eat slowly in a relaxed setting. Watching a horror movie, or a stressful soap, as a dinner accompaniment is definitely not advisable.

Fortunately, heartburn has nothing to do with the heart, although it is sometimes awfully distressing. The good news also is - you can do a lot to help yourself.

First, make a mental note of foods and situations that aggravate your problem. Next, speak to your physician if heartburn affects you and your daily activities.

7 Tips to Prevent Heartburn

  1. Lose excess, or unwanted, weight
  2. Avoid foods that trigger acidity
  3. Avoid smoking and alcohol
  4. Eat smaller, frequent meals
  5. Take your medication regularly
  6. Do not sleep on a full stomach
  7. Sleep with your head slightly raised.

Recipe that Heals

Chicken kebab

Serves 4

This recipe gives you all the flavour of kebab, minus the heartburn.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into
  • 1/2-inch chunks
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp finely grated ginger
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • Salt to taste [depending on the saltiness of soy sauce]

Preparation

  • Soak some toothpicks in water for two hours. Wipe dry
  • In a medium bowl or a Zipouch, blend together olive oil, soy sauce, brown sugar, ginger and sesame seeds
  • Add the chicken to the mixture, mix well and marinate for 30 minutes to two hours in the refrigerator
  • Pre-heat oven to 175 Celsius
  • Make chicken kebabs by threading 2-3 chunks of chicken onto a toothpick.
  • Place kebabs on a baking or cookie sheet
  • Repeat the above two steps with the remaining chicken chunks. If there is any marinade remaining, discard it.
  • Bake for 8-10 minutes or until just cooked through.

Serve with a yogurt dip and a carrot-cucumber salad.

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