Heartburn is a painful burning sensation, experienced in the chest due to the reflux of acid and other stomach contents in the oesophagus.
This reflux is a result of relaxation of the lower oesophageal sphincter (LES) triggered usually by poor diet and lifestyle.
Though heartburn is a commonly experienced discomfort by most people, its ignorance can lead to the development of a chronic form called gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
You can take home remedies or OTC drugs for heartburn.
One of the best ways to get rid of heartburn is to change diet. Green leafy vegetables are an excellent choice for the same. Let's understand why they are so awesome in the case of heartburn.
Green Leafy Vegetables and Heartburn
Green leafy vegetables or otherwise called dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, Chinese cabbage (bok choy), broccoli, legumes, beans, lettuce and kale amongst others are an important part of the human diet since pre-historic times.
These vegetables are a rich source of nutrients and vitamins making their consumption extremely important and beneficial for health.
Salad greens, legumes, kale, and spinach are rich in vitamins A, C, E and K and broccoli contains an addition of B-vitamins.
These vegetables contain significant amounts of carotenoids which act as potent antioxidants, useful in preventing cancer, inflammation, and autoimmune diseases.
Dark green leafy vegetables are also good sources of folate and other B type vitamins. These vitamins are necessary for the health of the heart and in preventing certain birth defects.
1. Anti-inflammatory effects of green leafy vegetables
Green leafy vegetables present a significant amount of antioxidants called carotenoids such as Beta Carotene and lycopene; and certain vitamins such as C, A, and E which have potent anti-inflammatory functions.
In heartburn, inflammation is caused by the damage due to prolonged acid exposure of oesophageal walls.
This leads to ulceration, wounds, and rise in damage-induced inflammatory molecules such as reactive oxygen species and cytokines.
The inflammation in the oesophagus is the main cause of burning sensation felt in the chest.
Several studies have indicated the role between green leafy vegetables and a pro-inflammatory chemical called C Reactive Protein (CRP).
In case of increased inflammation anywhere in the body, the levels of this protein rise in the blood and are tested as a marker for the presence of inflammation.
Regular intake of Beta carotene and other types of carotenoids through green leafy vegetables have shown to decrease the levels of CRP in the blood remarkably.
Studies done on inflammation in atherosclerosis and pancreatitis have shown that vitamins (C, A, E) and carotenoids pose an inverse relationship with CRP.
2. Green leafy vegetables improve acid-base buffering in the stomach
Green leafy vegetables, particularly legumes and lettuce contain high amounts of organic acids such, fibers, proteins, aspartic acid and glutamic acids which show a considerable acid buffering capacity.
This means that the level of acid in the stomach is neutralized and the pH is increased, which prevents the excess acid from damaging the gut walls and mucosal layers.
This decreases the pain from heartburn significantly and also prevents future reflux episodes.
3. Green leafy vegetables improve digestion
Indigestion is one of the major causes of heartburns.
Foods with high-fat content and low fibres take more time to get digested properly.
This increases the retention time of food in the stomach, increasing the acid contents, consequently, the risk of acid reflux.
Green leafy vegetables contain low fatty acids, high water, and fiber contents which stimulate digestion and reduce the retention time of food in the stomach.
This, in turn, reduced the symptoms of heartburn significantly, promoting overall gastrointestinal health.
4. Green leafy vegetables prevent peptic ulcers
Heartburn and indigestion cause peptic ulcers which lead to inflammation and pains.
Deficiency of vitamin C and B has shown to contribute to the development of ulcers and bleeding in the stomach.
A study on rats demonstrated that these vitamins can be supplemented via food to cure ulcers completely and since green leafy vegetables are a rich source of vitamins, regular intake of such vegetables in diet can prevent and treat gastric ulcers, thus curing heartburn and pain.
5. Green leafy vegetables promote weight management
Obesity is one of the leading causes of the malfunctioning lower oesophageal sphincter, which due to excess weight relaxes and gives way to the acid to flow up.
The best way to prevent heartburn is to keep weight under control and proper diet and exercise is the only beneficial method to do so.
Green leafy vegetables contain high fiber and low fatty acids and thus, a diet rich in vegetables improves digestion and reduces fat deposition.
This also reduces the need for vigorous exercise to digest the extra fat being deposited in the adipose tissues of the body.
Besides maintaining a healthy weight, regular intake of green leafy vegetables with controlled exercise reduces weight in obese people significantly within a short period of time, reducing the symptoms of acid reflux.
Dosage and Consumption of Green Leafy Vegetables
Wide varieties of green leafy vegetables are available around the world and differ according to the regional markets.
Most common ones available all over are spinach, kale, legumes, broccoli and lettuce.
Increasing fatty diet, obesity, and weight management problems including heartburn have initiated a movement where intake of green leafy vegetables is recommended as essentials for leading a healthy life.
There are a variety of ways by which green leafy vegetables can be enjoyed in meals.
Both raw and cooked green leafy vegetables are beneficial; however, cooking is shown to reduce the bioavailability of carotenoids meaning they are lost during the heating and boiling process.
Studies have shown that on hand, pressure cooking and boiling vegetables reduces its nutritional content where the antioxidants are lost with water, cooking vegetables in oil on the other increase the availability of these nutrients.
Research on several types of oils and vegetables have shown that heat causes the carotenoids to expel out of the vegetables which are trapped in the oil forming micelles.
These micelles are retained in the food and are absorbed in the stomach efficiently, giving full benefit of the vegetables.
Out of different types of oils tested, olive oil has proved to be much more efficient than others in trapping the essential nutrients and preventing them from being lost during the cooking process.
Addition of spices and onions demonstrated similar retention of nutrients from the vegetables where turmeric and other spices with antioxidant properties were most effective.
Oil, spices, and onions are regularly used traditionally in Asian countries while cooking vegetables and this has been proven to preserve the nutritional value of the vegetables, making the food tastier and healthier.
Frying chopped vegetables like spinach, broccoli or bok choy with oil, onions, garlic, ginger and spices for a great vegetarian dish or adding these to tofu, chicken, turkey, beef or any other non-vegetarian food improves the nutritional value of the food significantly.
There are several other ways of ways of including green leafy vegetables in the diet.
The most popular way of eating raw green leafy vegetables is by including them in salad preparations.
Salads can be made interesting and colorful by adding green leaves of raw or semi-cooked spinach, lettuce, and arugula along with other ingredients such as cheese, boiled corn, carrots, cucumber, and tomatoes.
Best way to avoid fat is to eat this salad without fatty dressings such as mayonnaise and red meat.
Green leafy vegetables can also be used to perk up a wrap or a sandwich for better taste and nutrition.
Green leaves of lettuce and spinach can be added to a tuna, chicken or turkey wraps/sandwiches or in a vegetarian cottage sandwich along with onions and tomatoes.
This also reduces the need for cheese and fatty creams, improving the healthy proportion of the food items.
Tougher green leaves such as kale and mustard can also be added to soups to make them healthy and tasty.
Green leafy vegetables can also be steamed slightly before adding to a dish like soups, meat or sandwiches to make them a little tender.
For eggitarians, chopped vegetables can be added to egg white omelet for vitamin and iron-rich meal.
The only precaution while eating green leafy vegetables is to wash them properly before adding to a cooked dish or eating raw.
The soil stuck to the leaves or presence of chemicals can cause additional problems leading to severe discomforts.
Green leafy vegetables are highly recommended for a healthy diet, weight management and prevention or treatment of certain diseases like heartburn, heart problems, blood pressure, and diabetes.
Research has shown that antioxidant properties and vitamins present in these vegetables are good for treating heartburn and other gastrointestinal problems including cancer.
It is advisable to include green leafy vegetables in a regular diet to maintain proper health and lifestyle.