9 Tips to Improve Digestion and Reduce Heartburn
There are many potential reasons for indigestion and heartburn. A short list includes:
- Eating too many acidic foods
- Not eating enough vegetables
- Eating too fast
- Eating while stressed
- Having a medical condition that requires treatment.
While I’m not able to prescribe “solutions” in this post, I’m can offer options that may help to reduce the more common causes of heartburn and indigestion. Also, note that acid reflux disease is a medical condition and may need treatment. My suggestions may or may not help with that condition.
Here are my 9 tips to improve digestion and reduce heartburn
Tip #1: Start your day with lemon water
The first thing you should do after waking up in the morning is to pour yourself a large glass of filtered water. Add to that a few slices of fresh squeezed lemon, or better yet the juice of half a lemon.
Many people assume that lemon is acidic. It may seem that way because lemon tastes sour. That’s what we experience in North America because lemons are not a local fruit. If you’ve ever picked a fresh lemon from a lemon tree you’ll know they almost taste sweet.
Adding lemon to your water first thing in the morning helps reduce pH levels, stimulates digestion, and is a nice pick-me-up. I like to squeeze a slice of lemon into my water a couple of times per day.
Drinking lots of fresh, clean, filtered water during the day is another way to help with digestion. You need enough water in your body to stay hydrated, to stimulate body fat loss, and for optimal health.
Tip #2: Eat more vegetables and with most meals
One of the biggest reasons why people experience heartburn or acid reflux is because they’re not neutralizing the pH levels of their meal with vegetables and fruit.
All meats are high in pH, meaning they cause more acid in the gut. The way to neutralize this is to consume vegetables with meat at the same meal. I recommend two portions of vegetables to one part meat. Use the size of your clenched fist as a measure for portion sizing.
Tip #3: Take a quality digestive enzyme supplement
If you experience indigestion or heartburn after eating large amounts of foods, (a buffet, Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner) taking 1-2 digestive enzymes before you eat can help. Digestives can especially help if the meal is rich in different fats, starches, and of course sugar from desserts. Digestives are not a miracle cure, but they can help to reduce discomfort, bloating, and nasty gas the next day.
As we age our body don’t perform as well as it used to in our youth. I’ve noticed this in myself (having reached the grand old age of 49!). Your stomach doesn’t produce the amount of enzymes that it used to when you’re in your 40s and above. I may take a digestive every few days, depending on how I’m feeling and what I’m eating. If I’m over tired, not feeling 100%, then I might take a digestive. I usually take one if I eat a meal at a restaurant, because I don’t know what I’m going to choose from the menu and I may also choose a comfort food.
Like any supplement a digestive is not a cure-all and I don’t recommend taking them every single day or with every single meal.
Tip #4: Supplement with a greens product
There are many quality greens-type supplements on the market. I am most familiar with Greens+ by Genuine Health and highly recommend them. If acid reflux and digestive issues are a daily or common occurrence for you, I’d recommend consuming a greens drink every day, first thing in the morning.
Why not combine drinking your water with lemon and the greens supplement? Make this the first liquid you put into your body upon waking. It may take some getting used to, but in 1-2 weeks you will probably notice an improvement. Drink your greens before you have any coffee. Give yourself 20 to 30 minutes before you have your first cup, because coffee causes more acidity in your gut.
If you’ve never used to greens supplement before, read the directions carefully. In the case of Greens+, they suggest three teaspoons per day. Start with one teaspoon and then slowly increase the dosage.
The dose also depends on how healthily you eat. Based on my lifestyle and healthy eating, I find one teaspoon per day is enough. I usually add my greens supplement to my protein smoothie, which I make with kale, ginger, cucumber, and organic whole milk yogurt. This is a power-house of antioxidants and wonderful for my digestion.
Tip #5: Eat ginger
Ginger is a natural digestive. Don’t use powdered ginger, instead use ginger root that you find in the produce section of the grocery store. A few slices of finely chopped or diced ginger added to a meal not only tastes great but will aid in digestion. Many people use fresh ginger to make tea and drink it throughout the day. My favourite place to use ginger is in one of my greens protein smoothies.
Tip #6: Eat foods with probiotics
Probiotics are created via fermentation. You’ll these gut-friendly bacteria in foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, real sauerkraut, miso, etc. Probiotics are a type of healthy bacteria that our body needs and offer many health benefits, namely improved digestion.
The big caveat when choosing yogurt or kefir to is avoid buying anything made with added sugar, fruit, thickeners, low-fat, or no fat. What was once a nutritious food quickly becomes a highly processed, low-nutrient quality desert. Note that the addition of sugar in yogurt kills the healthy bacteria.
I would also suggest against buying yogurt made with skim milk. I advocate buying ONLY organic, plain whole milk yogurt. The less processing of whole milk the better! My brand of choice for both kefir and yogurt is Saugeen County, because if fits my criteria and it’s also non-homogenized. Another great organic yogurt producer is Pinehedge farms.
Tip #7: Limit or eliminate processed foods
I am not being sensational when I make the following statement:
We are slowly killing ourselves with processed foods, GMO modified food, pesticides, hormones, and thousands of other food chemicals and additives. I forgot to mention processed sugar, which is equal to cocaine for its addictive qualities.
Google any of the above to see how controversial all these topics are. There is more than enough research that shows how ill we are becoming as a modern population compared to 50 or even 100 years ago. The decline in our health is the result of eating more processed foods, chemicals, and the gradual decrease of nutrient value in whole foods.
When you cook your meals at home in advance for the week you’ll know what’s in your food. If you buy raw chicken breasts, olive oil, some broccoli and red peppers, that’s what you’re getting. Of course the raw ingredients may have been grown with pesticides (unless you buy organic). When you cook from scratch you can reduce your exposure to unnecessary food chemicals and preservatives.
Tip #8: Reduce or eliminate processed sugars
I love desserts, but I don’t like the negative effects that sugar has on me. I know the effect that processed flour combined with white table sugar and unhealthy fats have on my waist-line. The high-sugar content of desserts stimulate “pleasure” chemicals in your brain. This results in increased cravings as well as a decrease in satiety. Translation: you wind up eating more dessert!
There are ways to cut your sugar cravings. Many bloggers, nutritionists, and dietitians have written books or articles on steps you can take to reduce and eventually eliminate sugar from your diet. My partner and I did a 30-day no desserts diet that worked extremely well.
I think the next step for me is to start making my own raw, sugar-free desserts. I would like to still enjoy “sweets”, but without the harmful side effects of table sugar and the potential stomach discomfort.
Tip #9: Control you coffee intake
Yup. Coffee. It’s highly acidic. Dammit!
I want you to know that I’m not a hypocrite. I love my espresso first thing in the morning, but I also know that the more coffee I drink, the more it hurts my stomach. If I drink one too many it almost feels like I’m starting to cramp, and I can taste the acidity in my mouth. One thing that helps, but it’s not a cure, is to always drink a full glass of water with every cup of coffee.
What should I try first?
Step 1: Start with the juice of half a lemon and filtered water as your first beverage of the day. Even if you only try that for a week, notice how you feel.
Step 2: Eat vegetables with every single meal, and adjust your ratios so that you’re eating two parts vegetable to one part meat.
Step 3: Clean up your diet by reducing unhealthy foods, processed foods, too much coffee, and sugars. Supplement with a greens product and of course drink much more water.
Eat well to be well.