What is heartburn?

As its name suggests, heartburn is a burning sensation in the chest, caused by acid from the stomach travelling back to the gullet and on towards your throat. It is also referred to as acid reflux and affects approximately one in five adults in the UK.


Read more about heartburn from the NHS, including when you should speak to your GP. Plus discover all our digestive health recipes and tips, including eating for IBS and what are probiotics and what do they do?

Man with heartburn

Case study

  • A businessman in his late 40s experienced an uncomfortable, burning sensation in his chest and throat after eating. He also had bad breath, bloating and nausea
  • His typical routine involved grabbing toast for breakfast, eating on the hoof at lunchtime and finishing the day with a late-evening meal
  • He had recently put on a few kilos and was trying to reduce the fattier foods in his diet that he suspected were the cause of his problems

My advice...

The very first thing to do was to determine which foods brought on his symptoms. Common trigger foods include spices, coffee, alcohol, chocolate, peppermint, fizzy soft drinks and acidic foods, like tomatoes. Red meat, full-fat dairy and fried foods may also be culprits, as they slow down the digestive process.

In addition to cutting back on these ‘triggers,’ I advised my client to:

  • Take time over his food and aim to eat in a relaxed manner, where possible
  • Have smaller, more frequent meals and snacks
  • Avoid bending or lying down after eating, and ideally time his evening meal at least 2-3 hours before going to bed
  • Where possible minimise red and processed meats, keep alcohol and caffeine to a minimum and opt for lean poultry and fish whilst choosing dishes that are steamed, grilled or poached rather than fried
Steamed fish with ginger & spring onion in foil parcel

The result

By concentrating on how, as well as what he ate, my client was able to manage his symptoms within weeks. However, any slip up in his focus did mean a return of his symptoms, so it was important to stay on track.

Interested in more ways to manage your heartburn? Now read:

The acid reflux diet: what is it?
Foods to avoid for acid reflux
What to drink for acid reflux

If you are suffering with heartburn or acid reflux and symptoms are persistent, make sure you visit your GP to ensure it isn't a sign of other health issues.

Kerry's recipe suggestions for heartburn:

Steamed fish with ginger & spring onion
Easy poached salmon with salsa verde
Steamed mussels with cider, spring onions &/ cream
Smoky chicken with warm corn & potato salad
Chargrilled turkey with quinoa tabbouleh & tahini dressing
Miso brown rice & chicken salad
Grilled fish with new potato, red pepper & olive salad

If you are suffering with heartburn or acid reflux and symptoms are persistent, make sure you visit your GP to ensure it isn't a sign of other health issues.

Do you suffer with heartburn or have you recently made dietary changes to ease your symptoms? Share your experiences below.

Kerry Torrens is a qualified Nutritionist (MBANT) with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.


All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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