According to the American College of Gastroenterology, 60 million Americans experience heartburn at least once a month and more than 15 million Americans experience heartburn symptoms daily.
Heartburn is a burning pain in your chest, just behind your breastbone. Usually, the pain intensifies after eating, in the evening, or when lying down or bending over.
Most people who experience occasional heartburn can treat it with mild lifestyle changes or over-the-counter medications, but if you experience it regularly it’s best to seek the opinion of your doctor.
If you only get heartburn now and again or after eating particularly acidic or spicy food, what if we told you that you could potentially counter the effects of this by eating ice cream?
Yep, you heard us correctly.
While there are conflicting ideas around dairy products and whether or not they aggravate acidity, milk is known as an antacid, which is why you may have heard that milk is more effective than water if you’ve had too much spice and your mouth feels like it’s on fire!
Milk is rich in calcium and protein and these help prevent acid build-up in the body and absorb excess acid which alleviates symptoms of acidity.
So, a scoop of vanilla ice-cream after your meal could help to improve your digestion and also take care of heartburn and acid reflux.
The coolness of the ice cream may also have a soothing, neutralizing effect on that burning sensation.
The other side of the argument
However, others disagree with this and say dairy, in general, isn’t a good idea for heartburn.
Everyone is different, but certain foods are more likely to splash up into your esophagus and cause heartburn, such as:
- Meats: Ground beef, marbled sirloin, chicken nugget-style, and chicken/buffalo wings.
- Fatty foods and oils: Chocolate, regular corn and potato chips, high-fat butter cookies, brownies, doughnuts, creamy and oily salad dressings, fried or fatty food in general.
- Fruits, Vegetables & Juice: acidic fruits such as oranges and lemons, lemonade, grapefruit juice, cranberry juice, tomatoes, and various potatoes.
- Beverages: Liquor, wine, coffee, and tea.
- Grains and pasta: Macaroni and cheese, spaghetti with marinara sauce.
- Dairy: such as sour cream or milk.
The above foods and beverages can contribute to heartburn (and the more serious GERD) because they are known to lessen the effectiveness of the LES to keep stomach contents in the stomach.
Smoking and carbonated beverages are also thought to be aggravating as they can put pressure on the stomach, forcing stomach acid back up into the esophagus and triggering heartburn.
One thing to bear in mind is that while dairy products can sometimes be associated with heartburn and acid reflux symptoms, it may not necessarily be a specific dairy product that’s causing you issues but the entire food group.
Some people suggest that dairy aggravates heartburn because of milk’s high-fat content, however, it could actually be down to lactose intolerance. This is when a lack of enzymes in your gut means your body can’t effectively breakdown the dairy products.
Other symptoms of lactose intolerance are bloating and loose bowel movements after eating dairy products, so if this is something you experience, it could be that you have lactose intolerance, which means dairy products such as ice cream won’t help with your heartburn but are more likely to make it worse.
Heartburn during pregnancy
The majority of pregnant women will experience heartburn at some point, usually in their third trimester. The reason behind this is that your pregnancy hormones relax all of the muscles in your body in preparation for childbirth.
This includes the muscle at the top of the stomach called the lower esophageal sphincter, and this muscle usually prevents digestive acids from splashing up into the esophagus.
When this muscle relaxes, those harsh acidic juices are forced back up from the stomach into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation around the heart, a sour taste in your mouth, and even belching.
In the case of pregnancy heartburn, you’re also encouraged to steer clear of any foods that trigger your heartburn, and these may include ice cream and other dairy products.
On the other hand, some people find ice cream a soothing temporary solution to heartburn, and if it works for you, there’s no harm in having a scoop or two when you need it.
The only thing to bear in mind is the high fat and sugar content in ice cream, which isn’t so comforting, as you don’t want to make it a regular habit.
If you find the coolness of ice cream soothing for heartburn and other acid reflux issues, you could swap your full-fat ice cream for a low-fat, low-sugar alternative.
You may also be wondering about flavors...While Ben and Jerry’s Cookie Dough is more than appealing, this isn’t the best choice on the health front.
Plain vanilla ice-cream is lower in sugar than some of the fancier flavors, and when it comes to heartburn, the plainer the better.
There are lots of conflicting ideas out there as to whether or not ice cream helps with heartburn, and, to be honest, there’s no straightforward answer to this question, as it depends more on how your body responds to dairy.
As we said before, dairy is thought to be an antacid, but for some people with lactose intolerance, ice cream will only further aggravate their acid reflux issues.
The only way to find out for sure is to give it a try. The soothing, cooling properties of ice cream may well help with your heartburn, we’d just suggest bearing in mind the health drawbacks of regular ice cream indulgence!
We’d also suggest monitoring your heartburn and taking note of any foods that make it flare-up. Obviously, if you suffer from heartburn daily or regularly, it’s best to take a trip to the doctor or get an over-the-counter medication to reduce the inflammation and discomfort.