Eating and Cooking with Heartburn

Before having heartburn, I loved to try new things with food, from Japanese curry to a recipe a friend from Mauritius gave me, which was frying up butternut squash with fenugreek seeds. And of course, I loved eating spicy food, even learning to make my own kimchi while I was working in the middle east.

But like all good things, it came to an end in a spectacular way when I kept on burping on the way home after drinking only a bottle of beer. Just imagine all the foam and feeling that I wasted good craft booze that deserved better. This meant going to the gastroenterologist to have it looked at.

Lo and behold, I felt my foodie adventures disappear in an instant when he said that I had heartburn. I already expected him to give me a list of all the bland food I’d have to eat, but I think the fates were kind that day. The physician said that when I find food or ingredients that triggers the acid build up and burping, I should take note and avoid them. Of course the usual suspects were in the list, like citrus fruits, coffee, alcohol, milk, fried or spicy food. However, I didn’t expect eggs to be one of my triggers.

Since I live alone, eggs should probably have been the easiest to cook protein for a balanced diet; however, I only discovered I couldn’t eat them when Christmas time came. It was two weeks before Christmas when my landlord gave me a large tray of eggs, around 30 pieces in total for the holidays. Thankfully this saved me a trip to the grocery when the funds were tight. I first tried making sunny-side up and ended up burping like crazy even if I chewed slowly or at less. I then tried scrambled eggs with the same result, and later to progressed all the way to hard-boiled and soft-boiled egg. After the last attempt, I shook my head and gave the remaining eggs to my sister. I think for a week I couldn’t even look at the pack of pancake mix I was aiming to use.

But when there’s a will, there’s a way. I discovered ways around the thought of eating bland food by making hand tossed salads without the ranch or thousand island dressing, using reduced amounts of oil whenever I need to fry something, boil ingredients whenever possible, going less on the salt and processed foods, and if I have to eat something not exactly good for me, I eat just a few tablespoons of the stuff and then move on. Using fresh ingredients and light sauces as much as possible is one’s valued ally in not being stifled at every turn. I also had to teach myself how to chew thoroughly and slowly because I used to eat fast and plenty.

Another thing I’ve tried is drinking probiotic drinks or eat some yogurt every now and then. After reading up on a study on the benefits of probiotics for the stomach (Del Piano, M. et al… Capurso L. (2006), “Probiotics: from research to consumer”, Digestive and Liver, 38), I decided to give it a shot even if I knew dairy and I had a fickle, if not warlike, relationship. In a few weeks of drinking and stocking up on those two things, I’ve noticed that I wasn’t burping as often or as hard as before. And then out of sheer desire, I decided to give a glass of red wine a try. Thankfully, it didn’t cause me to be a burping mess again. Just a rumble or two but nothing beyond that. Hopefully there will be definitive study on it soon.

I’ve come to the present day realization that changing the way I cook, eat and drink helps keep heartburn or GERD at bay, giving one the opportunity to still be a foodie without sacrificing my health in the process. And anyone can do it given time, planning, and becoming the master of what you eat and drink, not the other way around.