20 Foods to Add to Your Diet If You Have GERD

by Marixie Ann Obsioma
Published on October 21, 2020 and last updated for accuracy on October 24, 2020

Proper treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) always begins with a visit to a healthcare professional to obtain an accurate diagnosis. It is important to recognize that chronic reflux does not get better on its own. While over-the-counter remedies may provide short-term symptom relief, it can mask an underlying disease if used long-term.

Coming up with the appropriate diet and lifestyle changes is better as this can be done longer as a maintenance without worrying about any side effect. While no proven “GERD diet” exists, several foods may help you ease or avoid symptoms.

First, let’s have a brief discussion about GERD, its causes, and symptoms. 

What is GERD?

Acid reflux happens when contents from your stomach move up into your esophagus. It’s also called acid regurgitation or gastroesophageal reflux.

If you have symptoms of acid reflux more than twice a week, you might have a condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

According to experts, GERD affects about 20 percent of people in the United States. If left untreated, it can sometimes cause serious complications (1).

What Causes GERD?

Occasional acid reflux is also quite common, often occurring as a result of overeating, lying down after eating, or eating particular foods.

However, recurrent acid reflux, diagnosed as GERD, typically has other causes and risk factors and can have more serious complications.

The term “gastroesophageal” refers to the stomach and esophagus. Reflux means to flow back or return. Gastroesophageal reflux is when what’s in your stomach backs up into your esophagus.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease occurs in people of all ages, and sometimes for unknown reasons.

In normal digestion, your LES opens to allow food into your stomach. Then it closes to stop food and acidic stomach juices from flowing back into your esophagus. Gastroesophageal reflux happens when the LES is weak or relaxes when it shouldn’t. This lets the stomach’s contents flow up into the esophagus.

GERD occurs more commonly in people who are:

  • Overweight or obese because of increased pressure on the abdomen
  • Hiatal hernia, which is a condition where an opening in the diaphragm lets the top of the stomach move up into the chest. This lowers the pressure in the esophageal sphincter and raises the risk of GERD.
  • Pregnant, due to the same increased pressure
  • Taking certain medications, including some asthma medications, calcium channel blockers, antihistamines, sedatives, and antidepressants
  • Connective tissue disorders, such as scleroderma
  • Eating large meals or eating late at night
  • Eating certain foods (triggers) such as fatty or fried foods
  • Drinking certain beverages, such as alcohol or coffee
  • Smoking, and being exposed to second-hand smoke

Symptoms

The most common symptom of GERD is heartburn. It usually feels like a burning chest pain that starts behind your breastbone and moves upward to your neck and throat. Many people say it feels like food is coming back into the mouth, leaving an acid or bitter taste.

The burning, pressure, or pain of heartburn can last as long as 2 hours. It’s often worse after eating. Lying down or bending over can also result in heartburn. Many people feel better if they stand upright or take an antacid that clears acid out of the esophagus.

People sometimes mistake heartburn pain for the pain of heart disease or a heart attack, but there are differences. Exercise may make heart disease pain worse, and rest may relieve it. Heartburn pain is less likely to go along with physical activity. But you can’t tell the difference, so seek medical help right away if you have any chest pain.

Besides pain, you may also have:

  • Nausea
  • Bad breath
  • Trouble breathing
  • A hard time swallowing
  • Vomiting
  • Wearing away of tooth enamel
  • A lump in your throat

If you have acid reflux at night, you may also have:

  • A lingering cough
  • Laryngitis
  • Asthma that comes on suddenly or gets worse
  • Sleep problems

GERD Treatment and Home Remedies

GERD treatment aims to cut down on the amount of reflux or lessen damage to the lining of the esophagus from refluxed materials.

Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter or prescription medications to treat your symptoms.

Antacids

These drugs can help neutralize acid in the esophagus and stomach and stop heartburn. Many people find that nonprescription antacids provide temporary or partial relief. An antacid combined with a foaming agent helps some people. Researchers think these compounds form a foam barrier on top of the stomach that stops acid reflux.

But long-term use of antacids can bring side effects, including diarrhea, altered calcium metabolism, and a buildup of magnesium in the body. Too much magnesium can be serious for people who have kidney disease. If you need antacids for more than 2 weeks, talk to your doctor.

H2 Blockers

For chronic reflux and heartburn, the doctor may recommend medications to reduce acid in the stomach. These medicines include H2 blockers, which help block acid secretion in the stomach. H2 blockers include cimetidine (Tagamet), famotidine (Pepcid), and nizatidine.

Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs)

Also known as acid pumps, these drugs block a protein needed to make stomach acid. Common examples of PPIs include dexlansoprazole (Dexilant), esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid), omeprazole (Prilosec), omeprazole/sodium bicarbonate (Zegerid), pantoprazole (Protonix), and rabeprazole (Aciphex).

Prokinetics

In rare cases, these drugs help your stomach empty faster so you don’t have as much acid left behind. They may also help with symptoms like bloating, nausea, and vomiting. But they can also have serious side effects. Many people can’t take them, and those who can should do so only for a limited time. Examples of prokinetics include domperidone and metoclopramide.

As mentioned earlier, diet and lifestyle changes can also make a huge difference. 

Common Trigger Foods for People with Reflux

Although doctors debate which foods actually cause reflux symptoms, certain foods have been shown to cause problems for many people. To control your symptoms, you could start by eliminating the following foods from your diet.

High-fat Foods

Fried and fatty foods can cause the LES to relax, allowing more stomach acid to back up into the esophagus. These foods also delay stomach emptying.

Eating high-fat foods puts you at greater risk for reflux symptoms, so reducing your total daily fat intake can help.

The following foods have a high-fat content. Avoid these or eat them sparingly:

  • French fries and onion rings
  • Full-fat dairy products, such as butter, whole milk, regular cheese, and sour cream
  • Fatty or fried cuts of beef, pork, or lamb
  • Bacon fat, ham fat, and lard
  • Desserts or snacks, such as ice cream and potato chips
  • Cream sauces, gravies, and creamy salad dressings
  • Oily and greasy foods

Tomatoes and Citrus Fruit

Fruits and vegetables are important in a healthy diet. But certain fruits can cause or worsen GERD symptoms, especially highly acidic fruits. If you have frequent acid reflux, you should reduce or eliminate your intake of the following foods:

  • Oranges
  • Grapefruit
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Pineapple
  • Tomatoes
  • Tomato sauce or foods that use it, such as pizza and chili
  • Salsa

Chocolate

Chocolate contains an ingredient called methylxanthine. It has been shown to relax the smooth muscle in the LES and increase reflux.

Garlic, Onions, and Spicy Foods

Spicy and tangy foods, such as onions and garlic, trigger heartburn symptoms in many people.

These foods won’t trigger reflux in everyone. But if you eat a lot of onions or garlic, make sure to track your meals carefully in your diary. Some of these foods, along with spicy foods, may bother you more than other foods do.

Caffeine

People with acid reflux may notice their symptoms acting up after their morning coffee. This is because caffeine is a known trigger of acid reflux.

Mint

Mint and products with mint flavoring, like chewing gum and breath mints, can also trigger acid reflux symptoms.

Carbonated Drinks

Carbonated beverages can increase acidity as well as pressure in the stomach, making it easier for stomach acid to push through the LES and flow up into the esophagus (2).

What to Eat if You Have GERD?

1. Bananas 

Known for being high in potassium, bananas also have a low pH (acidity) and are typically advised for an acid reflux diet.

2. Beans 

Beans are a heart-healthy food, and are also a good source of fiber. Try including beans into your acid reflux diet to see how they help.

3. Chamomile Tea

Since black and green teas are caffeinated and generally are foods to avoid for acid reflux, you can try Chamomile tea as a substitute. Chamomile tea has long been a soothing tea, helping to lower stress levels which can further alleviate reflux.

4. Chewing Gum 

Chewing gum immediately after a meal, and for up to one hour, helps to reduce the amount of acid felt in the esophagus. Acid reflux is further reduced when chewing gum, and is combined with walking after meals (3). When buying chewing gum, look for brands with no artificial ingredients or sweeteners.

5. Egg Whites

Egg whites are typically a staple food for body-builders and provide all of the protein in eggs, with none of the fat found in the yolks. Since people with GERD should avoid fats, egg whites present a good way to get some of the nutrition from eggs without the bad effects.

6. Ginger 

Ginger is renowned as being anti-inflammatory and is often prescribed as a natural remedy to a variety of stomach ailments. Try adding ginger to various dishes and also try to drink ginger tea before or after meals to see how it helps with reflux.

7. Honey and Agave 

Honey, especially Manuka Honey, is reportedly helpful for reflux. Manuka honey, in particular, is reported to contain enzymes to help in digestion. Sweeteners like honey and agave can make a great addition to oatmeal in an acid reflux diet.

8. Lean Chicken and Turkey

Lean chicken and turkey is a great affordable source of protein. Be sure to choose cuts without skin, and always grill or saute the chicken. Never pan fry or deep fry it.

9. Lean Fish 

Fish is one of the healthiest foods around. A great source of protein and most vitamins, and minerals, fish is a great addition to any diet. When preparing fish for a GERD diet, be sure to choose less fatty fish, and only grill, sautee, or steam it. Never consume it fried, or deep fried.

10. Melon

Honeydew, cantaloupe, and watermelon should also be helpful for acid reflux. It is, however, easy to overeat melon, which can trigger reflux. Watch your portion sizes with melon.

11. Soups 

Homemade soups, especially with whole wheat noodles and the approved vegetables above can make a great meal to prevent reflux. As with melon, watch portion size so not to overeat. Soup also has the advantage of being low in calories, aiding in weight loss, which is likely to help with acid reflux.

12. Olive Oil 

Your 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.

13. Unbuttered, Unsalted Popcorn

Popcorn is considered a whole grain, and can make a great snack. Be sure to only eat plain popcorn with nothing added. Like soup, popcorn tends to be a great low calorie snack for weight loss.

14. Soy Milk 

Full fat, and even skim milk, can often trigger reflux. Soy Milk can present a great alternative, as well as lactose-free milk.

15. Tofu 

Tofu is a low-fat source of protein. Tofu, however, is typically served fried or deep fried, which you should avoid when on a reflux diet. Look for steamed or sauteed tofu recipes.

16. Vinegar 

Since acid reflux is often caused by low stomach acid after too many PPIs, drinking some vinegar before meals can actually help prevent reflux. For best results mix the vinegar with water or Manuka honey. Drinking the yeast, mother, or bacteria which made the vinegar can also give your stomach a pro-biotic boost, eliminating the harmful bacteria which thrive in a low-acid stomach.

17. Potatoes

These 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.

18. Whole Grains 

Whole grains like whole wheat bread especially rye, brown rice, and oatmeal should all prevent reflux. Oatmeal is even thought to absorb stomach acid, and acid from other foods. Please note that this not include granola which tends to be high in oil which triggers reflux. Also, if you consume oatmeal with milk, be sure to use skim, or preferably soy milk.

19. Vegetables 

Raw or cooked, vegetables are generally good for an acid reflux diet. Be sure to avoid onions, tomatoes, or peppers. Recommended vegetables include all root vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, and carrots. Other great vegetables include mushrooms, fennel, and celery.

20. Lemon Water 

Lemon juice is generally considered very acidic, but a small amount of lemon juice mixed with warm water and honey has an alkalizing effect that neutralizes stomach acid. Also, honey has natural antioxidants, which protect the health of cells.

Other Tips

Eat smaller servings: Eating smaller portions at mealtime may also help control symptoms. Also, eating meals at least 2 to 3 hours before bedtime lets the acid in your stomach go down and your stomach partially empty.

Eat slowly: Take your time at every meal.

Chew your food thoroughly: It may help you remember to do this if you set your fork down after you take a bite. Pick it up again only when you’ve completely chewed and swallowed that bite.

Stop smoking: Cigarette smoking weakens the LES. Stopping smoking is important to reduce GERD symptoms.

Elevate your head: Raising the head of your bed on 6-inch blocks or sleeping on a specially designed wedge lets gravity lessen the reflux of stomach contents into your esophagus. Don’t use pillows to prop yourself up. That only puts more pressure on the stomach.

Stay at a healthy weight: Being overweight often worsens symptoms. Many overweight people find relief when they lose weight.

Wear loose clothes: Clothes that squeeze your waist put pressure on your belly and the lower part of your esophagus.

Acupuncture: In one study, treatment with acupuncture stopped reflux in the test group better than PPIs, with results that lasted longer. We need more large studies to confirm this, but early results are promising.

Key Takeaway

Adding the right foods to your diet could really help with your symptoms. However, while eating a low-acid diet is a good strategy, it may not be enough for severe cases. 

The specific causes of heartburn vary a lot from person to person. That’s why treatment always needs a personalized approach. Talk to your doctor if the symptoms are worsening. He or she can help plan a better treatment plan that will possibly combine medications and diet. 

References: 

(1) https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/acid-reflux-ger-gerd-adults/definition-facts

(2) https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1365-2036.2010.04232.x

(3) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11148431/

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