Wherever tables are overflowing with festive feasts, treats and drinks, heartburn and bloating are sure to follow. According to the American College of Gastroenterology, the holidays bring the unwelcome gift of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or acid reflux to about 60 million Americans. “A recent survey found that from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, heartburn makes two out of three people less than jolly,” said Sharecare medical advisor Dr. Kevin Soden, M.D.
Bouts of bloating, nausea, burning in your abdomen and chest, burping, or regurgitation of acid in your throat can ruin your joyful mood. Thankfully, heartburn medications like Nexium can help you celebrate the holidays without disruptive acid reflux. This prescription medication relieves GERD symptoms by decreasing the amount of acid that your stomach produces. Also follow these smart eating and drinking tips to help you enjoy all the upcoming holiday feasts and merriment without suffering from heartburn.
1. Manage Stress
The stress of the hectic holiday season boosts stomach acid levels, which can lead to heartburn. Soden advises not putting pressure on yourself to do absolutely everything. Take time to relax around the holidays. Cut your heartburn risk in half by walking and moving instead of sitting constantly. Dr. Andrew Albert, a gastroenterologist at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, agrees that balancing the extra calories you take in with exercise can reduce acid reflux.
2. Eat Moderate Portions
With the annual overeating season approaching, Albert points out that the amount of food you consume has a lot to do with acid reflux attacks. The more you eat, the more likely it is that your stomach will overproduce acid to break down food, which causes discomfort. Soden recommends forgoing those Santa-size portions because overstuffing yourself can lead to an upset stomach. Graze rather than feast at holiday dinners and parties. You’ll enjoy this special time with family and friends even more if you eat your holiday favorites in moderation.
3. Skip Second Helpings of Meat
Resist the urge to fill up on extra servings of that delicious holiday ham, duck, or roast. Meat is one of the hardest foods for your stomach to digest. It’s a common cause of acid reflux, especially when it includes heavy sauces. In general, meat that is lower in fat like fish, lean chicken, and turkey creates less acid whereas a thick, juicy steak requires you to produce more digestive juices. Besides eating smaller meat portions, Albert advocates balancing each meal with plenty of healthy greens to neutralize the meaty acids.
4. Choose Foods Wisely
Omit or minimize consumption of year-round trigger foods like citrus, tomatoes, spicy foods, fatty and greasy foods, raw onions, garlic, and chocolate. Soden suggests choosing baked, roasted, or broiled foods instead of fried ones. Replace creamy salad dressings with olive oil and a little cider. Snack on raw veggies instead of potato chips. After a meal, suck on hard candy. This triggers the production of saliva, which acts as a natural acid barrier.
5. Linger Over Your Food
Multiple studies have found that eating slowly and chewing your food thoroughly before swallowing can prevent bloating and heartburn. Chew with your mouth closed and refrain from talking while eating. Giving your food time to digest will make you feel fuller and decrease the likelihood of heartburn.
6. Limit Risky Beverages
Albert warns that alcohol is one of the most common causes of acid reflux. According to Dr. Gloria Grice, Pharm.D., an associate professor at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy, it irritates your stomach and intestine linings and kills useful bacteria that help digest food. Eggnog is even worse because it contains the double threat of alcohol and heavy cream. Acidic fruit juices are major heartburn triggers. Soft drinks and tonic water increase your stomach pressure levels, boosting your acidic response. Caffeine can stimulate your appetite and lead to overeating, which can kick off heartburn and bloating. What’s the solution? Sip one drink slowly so it will last longer and then switch to water.
7. Minimize Dairy
Soden advises not to overdo eggnog and cheesecake. Mountains of evidence show that an overload of dairy products including high-fat milk, cream, cream cheese, cheese, and yogurt causes bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Lower fat versions may be less irritating.
8. Pass on Minty Treats
Mint, which is plentiful in holiday treats, is a notorious cause of acid reflux. If you’re already experiencing a bout, mint will make the problem worse. So be sure to leave the candy canes and minty chocolates for others to enjoy.
9. Decline Desserts
If you’re prone to heartburn, skipping desserts is best. Albert notes that rich, creamy sweets will fill you up and cause excess acid production. And the sweeter the taste, the more you’ll be tempted to overeat. Grice cautions that sugar, fruit, and fruit juice combined with starches such as pie crusts can ferment in your stomach and cause bloating. Cookies sweetened with fruit juice and fruit muffins can produce similar problems. “All sweeteners, even sugar substitutes, can make you gassy and crampy,” Soden said.
10. Avoid Late-Night Eating
Holiday festivities may keep you up later than normal. Albert reports that late-night eating is a common cause of acid reflux. Finish your final meal of the day at least two to three hours before going to bed. This added time gives your food and acid levels a chance to clear before lying down, when acid is able to get further up into your esophagus and throat.