Digestive Ailments in Blacks Caused by Poor Eating Habits

Shantella Sherman. Special to The Informer | 5/16/2012, 12:55 p.m.

Nearly 19 million Americans are affected by acid reflux disease also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which is characterized by heartburn occurring two or more days a week, despite treatment and changes in diet. African Americans, evidenced by diets heavy in fried, sugary, and fatty foods, are experiencing acid reflux in record numbers. However, in addition to what is being eaten, how food is eaten often impacts the development and treatment of digestive ailments.

Miranda Pettigrew, a registered dietician with Baltimore Health Services, said that too often African Americans engage in activities that impede proper digestion and create "tummy troubles."

"We have become a nation of multi-taskers. We eat and watch television or do stressful work, when having meals should be a quiet, peaceful activity that makes digestion smooth and easy," Pettigrew said.

Acid reflux occurs when a valve at the opening of the stomach, called a lower esophageal sphincter (LES) doesn't close as soon as food passes through it. If the LES doesn't close completely or if it opens too often, acid produced by the stomach can move up into the esophagus. This can cause symptoms such as a burning sensation in the chest called heartburn. If acid reflux symptoms occur more than twice a week, it's called acid reflux disease, also known as GERD.

Pettigrew, 39, said that individuals should watch how much refined and processed foods they eat.

"Processed foods have a tendency to also be low fiber and contain non-nutritive food components necessary to move residue through the intestines. Junk foods - these foods are high in calories but almost completely devoid of nutritional value," Pettigrew said.

"Similarly, fruits should be eaten alone, since they are high in enzymes and take only 20-30 minutes to travel through the system and be absorbed. When eaten with other foods which need much longer transit time, fruit will ferment in the transit process causing gastric distress," Pettigrew said.

Other helpful tips to aid digestion:

* Do not eat too much: The human body cannot properly process excessive quantities of food, period.

* Do not eat too much meat and fatty foods: Meats and fatty foods slow transit time and inhibit digestion. In addition, foods like sugar, coffee and alcohol create hyperacidity which upsets both the digestive tract and the digestive process.

* Do not eat too late: The body cannot rest and digest food at the same time. Undigested food, then, tends to remain in the system creating gas and discomfort.

* Do not eat too quickly: A small to moderate sized meal should take at least one hour to finish.

* Do not eat when emotionally upset: If you're angry or stressed, avoid eating until calm, even if this means eating alone in a quiet space.

* Do not eat foods that don't combine well together: Combining proteins with heavy starches like pasta and potatoes with red meat stress the digestive system. Also fruits and vegetables should not be eaten together.

* Do not drink with meals: Digestive enzymes are contained in saliva. When food is swallowed without being broken down by those enzymes, the larger particles are harder for the body to digest, resulting in gas, bloating and indigestion.