Acidity, also known as ‘acid reflux’ or ‘heartburn’ is a common issue that affects many people, and it can be caused by a variety of different factors like stress, overeating, excess spice, irregular meals, medications, and even certain foods and drinks. According to a recent survey in India, nearly 32% of the population aged above 30 experience acidity at least once a week.
Decoding Acidity and How it Occurs
Why do humans even need acid in the first place? Producing acid is a natural part of that process and it helps to break down food so your body can absorb the nutrients more easily. Simply put, it’s another way that your body “chews to reduce the size of the food particles and allows your digestive tract to absorb helpful nutrients much better. It turns out that your stomach needs to maintain a balanced pH level for good digestive health. A pH of 7 is neutral, while a pH below 7 is considered acidic and a pH above 7 is considered alkaline. Your body needs to maintain a slightly alkaline pH level of 3.5 to function properly.
Acidity occurs when the gastric glands in the stomach produce too much acid and it flows back into the esophagus. The esophagus is the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach, and it is not equipped to handle stomach acid. When this acid flows back into the esophagus, it can cause a burning sensation in the chest and throat, known as heartburn. It can also occur as a result of certain lifestyle habits. Eating large meals, lying down immediately after eating, and consuming certain foods and drinks close to bedtime can all increase the likelihood of acid reflux. In this blog, we will zero in on a few common foods in the Indian household and their relationship with acidity. From understanding the pH levels of different foods to learning how to hack your diet, it’s time to learn the truth behind acidity and how you can manage it.
Apples are low-acid fruits, with a pH level of around 3.5 to 4.5. This means that they are less likely to cause acid reflux compared to other fruits like lemons or oranges. However, its story is a bit more complicated than that. Apples contain malic acid, which is known to combat acid reflux by neutralizing stomach acids. But at the same time, it is also high in natural sugars that can ferment in the stomach and cause acidity in certain cases. This is especially true for people who suffer from GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease).
So, while apples are generally considered to be a good option for those with acid reflux, it's important to note that they may not be suitable for everyone. If you find that apples trigger acidity symptoms, it's best to avoid them or consume them in small amounts.
Cloves have been traditionally used as a natural remedy for acid reflux in many Indian households. They contain ‘eugenol’, which is an anti-inflammatory agent that soothes the stomach lining and reduces symptoms like heartburn, flatulence, and indigestion. They are also great at helping your belly produce enzymes that can aid digestion and reduce the likelihood of acid reflux episodes. It's advisable not to consume it in excess since this has the opposite effect! Having 2-3 cloves after a meal is more than you need to keep acidity at bay.
Ginger tackles acidity by reducing the irritation caused in the stomach by acidity. By stimulating the production of mucus in the stomach, it helps to create a protective barrier in the stomach. Without the mucus membrane, the acids would start corroding your stomach wall itself. Ginger is also a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, which means it even helps to undo some of the damage already caused by the acid in the esophagus. Drinking ginger tea or taking ginger supplements before your meals are two easy ways to control your acidity levels.
With a pH ranging from 6.5 – 8, this staple Indian spice has been used as ayurvedic medicine for acidity for centuries! One of the active compounds in ajwain, thymol, has been found to have antispasmodic properties, which means it can help relax the muscles in the stomach and intestines. This helps reduce the spasms that can cause acidity and other digestive issues. Additionally, ajwain also has antimicrobial properties which help in preventing the growth of harmful bacteria that can cause stomach infections and acidity.
Coconut water is low in fat and cholesterol making it the perfect option for those looking for low-calorie solutions to acidity. With its naturally alkaline pH range of 4.7 - 5.7, coconut water can neutralize stomach acids and restore balance to the body's pH levels. It also contains potassium, magnesium, and electrolytes, which can help to regulate the body's fluid balance and reduce acidity by preventing dehydration. But it’s important to note that coconut water has a laxative effect when consumed in large quantities, so make sure not to drink more than 2-3 glasses a day.
Bananas are low-acid, high-dietary fiber foods with a pH of about 5. The soluble fibers in bananas promote regular bowel movements and regulate the digestion process. This can help to prevent the buildup of stomach acids and cut down the chances of acid reflux. On top of this, the fibers also act as a sponge that absorbs excess acids, reduces inflammation, and helps you stay full for longer to prevent overeating. And let’s not forget that bananas are packed with potassium that helps to neutralize acidity even further. This fruit can do it all! Eat 1-2 bananas right after a meal for the best results.
Buttermilk is a fermented dairy product that has been used in many households to help alleviate acidity. The fermentation process of buttermilk produces lactic acid, which helps to reduce symptoms of acid reflux. It also contains probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria that help to promote a healthy gut and improve digestion. Probiotics can help to reduce acidity levels in the stomach in the long run. Additionally, buttermilk contains calcium that can help to strengthen the muscles in the esophagus, preventing stomach acid from flowing back to the throat. To use buttermilk to treat acidity, you can consume it on its own or use it in recipes such as pancakes, smoothies, and dressings.
Bonus: If you aren’t a fan of buttermilk or you’re pressed on time, a glass of cold milk offers the same benefits as buttermilk. However, drinking too much milk or buttermilk can cause your stomach to produce more acid than necessary and make your heartburn worse. It’s best to limit it to 1 glass per day.
Much like milk and buttermilk, curd is a natural antacid with vast amounts of helpful gut bacteria in every scoop. The combination of probiotics and lactic acid in curd balances your stomach's pH levels and helps your body absorb nutrients better. Good nutrient absorption plays an important role in managing acidity levels. But curd is also high in proteins and fats, which are slow to digest and stay longer in your stomach. This can trigger your stomach to produce more of its own acids and worsen acidity. Fatty foods like curd also have a relaxing effect on the esophagus muscles. This makes it much more likely for the acids to leak and cause heartburn. While curd can be a great ally for managing acidity, it’s extremely important to make sure it is not overused.
And there you have it, a balanced pH level is essential for proper digestion, nutrient absorption, and overall well-being. By understanding which foods are acidic and which are alkaline, you can make informed decisions that will help manage your acidity. Even though you now have a solid foundation for understanding the impact of certain foods on acidity, it's crucial to maintain a good overall lifestyle, eat meals in a timely manner, and get plenty of exercise. And remember, these foods have their limits. It's best to consult a healthcare professional if you find that your acidity is negatively affecting your daily life!