When stomach acid flows the wrong way — back into the tube that connects your throat to your stomach (your esophagus) — that’s called acid reflux. If it happens often and doesn’t get better, it’s called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Symptoms include chest pain, a cough, and trouble swallowing, especially when you lie down. Sometimes it can bring up bits of food or sour liquid into your mouth.
Getting heartburn from time to time usually isn’t anything to worry about, especially if it happens after you eat an entire large pizza by yourself or have one too many glasses of wine. But, if you find yourself reaching for an antacid all the time no matter what you eat, you likely need to re-evaluate your daily diet.
Symptoms of GERD
Just about everyone has had heartburn – that uncomfortable burning feeling in the chest after eating a heavy meal – at some point in their life. But, while occasional heartburn is nothing to worry about, heartburn that occurs more than once a week, becomes more severe, or occurs at night and wakes you from sleep may indicate gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). And, a visit to the doctor is advised.
Food Plays a RoleWhat you eat can have a big effect on GERD. There’s a long list of foods that you may want to stay away from, including chocolate, onions, acidic foods, and red meat. But other foods may help — or at least not make it worse.
Chicken BreastsLean and packed with protein, chicken breasts are pretty easy to digest. Just make sure to take off the skin and bake or saute them.
WaterThis is your best beverage bet if you have acid reflux. Sugary drinks can irritate it, and alcohol and acidic juices can, too. And carbonated drinks can add to your gas and make you burp, which may make things worse.
GingerThis root can help calm an upset stomach. Try some hot ginger tea — without the caffeine that can make acid reflux worse. Or chew on some dried ginger — just check the label to make sure it doesn’t have lots of sugar. That’s something else that can irritate reflux.
WatermelonIt’s a low-acid fruit that won’t trigger your symptoms. And nothing beats a big wedge of ripe watermelon on a hot summer day. Cantaloupe and honeydew are also good low-acid choices.
Brown RiceLooking for a side dish that won’t aggravate your reflux? This is a complex carbohydrate, which means it takes longer to digest than simple carbs like white rice, pastries, or sugary drinks — and that’s better for reflux. The extra fiber, compared with regular rice, also helps.
OatmealBreakfast is full of land mines: Bacon, sausage, pancakes, doughnuts, and greasy hash browns all can make things worse. Oatmeal is a better choice. It’s got plenty of fiber, will fill you up, and is hearty enough to give you energy for hours. But watch the extras: Cream, sugar, syrup, and dried fruit can all trigger symptoms. Go with fresh fruit instead.
PotatoesThese root vegetables are good, and others are, too — carrots, turnips, and parsnips, to name a few. They’re full of healthy complex carbs and digestible fiber. Just don’t cook them with onions or garlic, because those can irritate your acid reflux.
Olive OilYour body needs fat to work right, but fatty foods can make GERD symptoms worse. So you’ll probably want to stay away from things like butter or margarine. In their place, try a healthier fat like olive oil to see what might work for you. But you’ll want to have a light touch, because it does have fat and calories.
Lettuce and CeleryReflux can make you gassy, so skip foods that can make that worse, like beans and dried fruit. Mild veggies like lettuce and celery are healthy, low in calories, easy on your stomach, and they won’t cause more gas.
FennelIt has a mild licorice flavor and is low in acid, which can help soothe the upset stomach that can be both a cause and symptom of GERD. You can roast it and serve it as a main course, saute it as a side dish, or slice it raw and add it to a salad.
Whole grainsFiber-rich foods, including whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, and whole-grain bread, are important for gut health, Cavagnaro says. This could reduce your risk for acid reflux.
Green vegetablesEating more vegetables can reduce your risk for GERD, research shows. Leafy greens, broccoli, zucchini, and green vegetables, are high in fiber, which benefits your gut health and reduces your risk for acid reflux.
Low-fat or non-fat dairy“Dairy has been used for centuries for reflux symptoms,” Cavagnaro says. But, it must be low-fat or non-fat dairy, like cottage cheese, skim or 1% milk, and low-fat yogurt. High-fat dairy, like ice cream and whole milk, could make acid reflux worse.
Melons, bananas, and other alkaline foodsAlkaline foods help neutralize the acid in the stomach, Cavagnaro says. So adding more bananas, cantaloupe, honeydew, cucumbers, and apples to your diet can reduce your acid reflux. Many of these foods have a high water content, too, which also neutralizes stomach acid.
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Worst foods for acid reflux
Fatty and greasy foodsFried foods, fatty meats, and high-fat dairy, including french fries, chips, cheese, and sour cream, can relax the esophageal sphincter, which is the valve that keeps acid in the stomach, Cavagnaro says. When the esophageal sphincter is relaxed, more acid can seep into the esophagus, causing irritation. High-fat foods are also absorbed more slowly and sit in the stomach longer, causing the stomach to produce extra acid.
CoffeeCaffeinated drinks, including coffee, can raise your risk for GERD. Caffeine also relaxes the esophageal sphincter, allowing more acid to creep into the esophagus, causing irritation, Cavagnaro says.
AlcoholDrinking alcohol, especially red wine, especially in large quantities can increase the risk of acid reflux. Cavagnaro says alcohol is another food that relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter, making it more likely for acid to flow into the esophagus.
ChocolateLike alcohol and caffeine, chocolate has been shown to affect the valve that keeps acid in the stomach. This allows it to move into the esophagus and mouth and give you heartburn.
PeppermintPeppermint has been shown to help relieve lower GI symptoms, like bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea and constipation that come with irritable bowel syndrome, Cavagnaro says. But, peppermint can also trigger GERD symptoms. “If you have any reflux symptoms, steer clear of peppermint teas and supplements,” she adds.
Citrus fruits and juicesCitrus fruits and juices, including oranges, pineapple, grapefruit, lemons, and limes, are highly acidic. This leads to more stomach acid that can move up through the esophagus.
Spicy foodsCapsaicin, the compound that gives spicy foods their spice, can slow digestion, which keeps food in the stomach longer, causing acid reflux, Cavagnaro says. It can also irritate the esophagus and worsen the effects of GERD.
The bubbles in carbonated drinks can make GERD symptoms worse. “These can cause bloating and a feeling of fullness, causing more pressure and make reflux symptoms worse,” Cavagnaro says.