You’re probably familiar with heartburn – that burning sensation in your chest that sometimes moves up into your throat. It happens when your lower esophageal sphincter (LES) allows stomach acid to back up into your esophagus, also known as acid reflux.
Most people experience heartburn or acid reflux from time to time – it’s pretty common. However, if you experience acid reflux more than twice per week, it may be pointing towards a more chronic condition: gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). About 20% of individuals in the United States have GERD, and it’s important to take the condition seriously.
Talk with your doctor if you experience acid reflux regularly to determine the best options for you. There are several treatment options for GERD, but food choices play a huge part in managing your symptoms. Learn how you can make the most of your diet and keep heartburn at bay.
What foods should you limit or avoid to help manage GERD?
Everyone has different foods that may trigger acid reflux, but some foods are more likely to aggravate your symptoms than others. You may not have issues with every single food on this list, and you don’t have to avoid foods that don’t bother you. If you’re still learning your triggers, consider keeping a food journal to help you investigate which foods may be the culprit.
1. Acidic fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are an essential part of your diet. However, acidic foods like citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes, tomato products, and pineapple may irritate the esophagus and worsen acid reflux symptoms.
2. Garlic and onion
You probably have garlic and onion in your pantry right now – they’re considered staples in so many recipes. Fresh garlic and onion may trigger GERD symptoms more than cooked, dried, or powdered versions. Pay attention to how you feel after eating garlic or onion-heavy meals and adjust your favorite recipes as needed.
3. Fatty foods
High-fat foods take longer to digest and can cause the LES to relax, allowing stomach acid to back up into the esophagus.
Try to limit:
- Fried and greasy foods
- Fatty cuts of beef, pork, or lamb
- Full-fat dairy products (whole milk, full-fat cheese, full-fat yogurt, butter, etc.)
- Cream sauces, gravies, and creamy salad dressings
- Processed sweets and snacks
4. Spicy foods
Spicy foods may irritate the esophagus and worsen GERD symptoms. If you have a hard time handling the heat, try to limit your portion sizes of spicy foods and see if your symptoms improve.
5. Caffeinated beverages
Caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea, and soda may trigger GERD symptoms for some. It may be difficult to continue your daily routine without coffee or tea – but remember, you may not have to. If you don’t experience acid reflux after drinking caffeinated beverages, there’s no reason to avoid them.
If you do notice that your symptoms worsen after drinking any of these beverages, check out these tips:
- Choose caffeine-free drinks like water, fruit-infused water, or low-fat milk to stay hydrated.
- Cut back on your coffee or tea. Some people can tolerate a smaller amount of caffeine without any issue.
- Try decaffeinated coffee or tea.
Like fatty foods, alcohol can also relax the LES, which leaves the door open for acid to enter your esophagus. Make sure you don’t drink on an empty stomach and try not to pair alcohol with a meal that may trigger your GERD symptoms, like spaghetti with tomato sauce (acidic foods) or onion rings (fatty foods).
What foods are GERD-friendly?
Because everyone may experience different triggers, there is no “one diet fits all” when it comes to GERD. However, the following foods are usually safe bets and contribute to a healthy, balanced diet.
1. Lean protein
Protein helps build, repair, and maintain all the tissues in your body, supports immune health, and provides your body with energy. While it may be wise to avoid high-fat protein sources like fatty meat and full-fat dairy products to help manage GERD symptoms, there are plenty of lean protein foods you can include.
Try poultry without the skin, fish, lean cuts of beef, pork, or lamb, or reduced-fat dairy products. Plant-based protein options like beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds are also great options.
2. Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables provide so many vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients (plant nutrients) that help keep your body functioning optimally.
Even if you avoid the acidic varieties mentioned above, there are plenty of fruits and vegetables ready to take their place, and make sure you still get the nutrients you need. Bananas, melon, berries, carrots, celery, greens – the list goes on and on. Choose a new fruit or vegetable to try next time you’re roaming the produce aisle.
3. High-fiber foods
Overall, fiber plays a huge role in digestive health, and research suggests that it may even help ease symptoms of GERD. Fiber helps you stay fuller for longer, which can help support a healthy weight and prevent overeating – both of these factors may help keep heartburn at bay.
In addition to a variety of fruits and vegetables, include plenty of other fiber-rich foods, like, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, oatmeal, quinoa, beans, and lentils.
Is there anything else you can do to help manage GERD?
While GERD isn’t a life-threatening condition, it can be a major inconvenience and may lead to more serious health conditions over time if not managed properly. Diet and lifestyle changes can make a huge difference in your day-to-day life and help you stay healthy in the long run. Check out this article for more GERD-related lifestyle tips: “What is GERD? Understanding Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease.”
Remember that food is powerful. Some foods make you feel great, while others may feel like an acid reflux attack waiting to happen. It can take some time to figure out your personal GERD triggers, but once you do, you’re able to harness the power of food and use it to your advantage. Keep these tips tucked away to help you navigate your food choices each day.