Does a fire erupt in your throat and chest when you eat certain meals? GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, can turn everyday joys like going out for dinner into nightmares.
Worse, your symptoms can lead to food aversion, causing weight loss and leading you to choose non-nutritious meals when you do eat. Fortunately, a bit of education can help you get your daily RDA of the essentials without torching your insides.
What should you eat and avoid? Here’s what you need to know about the GERD diet, including the best and worst foods for acid reflux.
GERD Symptoms, Causes and Treatments
What causes GERD? More importantly, what symptoms should you expect and what treatments might help you, especially if you’re among the many Americans without meaningful access to health care services?
GERD occurs when your stomach’s contents flow back into your esophagus. This effect typically occurs because of problems with the sphincter that usually closes this pathway. Many people have occasional symptoms, but some are more prone to ongoing issues.
Symptoms of GERD include:
- Chest pain
- Pain with swallowing or the inability to swallow
More severe symptoms include:
- Appetite loss
- Signs of digestive tract bleeding, like bloody or tarry stools
Fortunately, lifestyle changes are among the top suggestions physicians make for treating this condition, and you can utilize them without ever stepping foot in a doctor’s office. For example, consuming more anti-inflammatory foods like turmeric can quiet the inflammatory cascade that can occur with GERD attacks. A slight regurgitation causes pain, which results in muscle spasms, further exacerbating your agony, then your tension and panic add fuel to the fire.
Changing your diet is the single best thing you can do. Other interventions include losing weight, investing in special pillows that keep your head and chest elevated at night, and avoiding slouching when eating to encourage a straight line down the chute.
The Best and Worst Foods for Acid Reflux
Since dietary changes are the best ways to manage GERD, it helps to know what to eat and avoid. Here are the best and worst foods for acid reflux.
The best foods for acid reflux fall into three categories: high-fiber, alkaline and watery. High-fiber foods help GERD symptoms by absorbing some of the liquid in the digestive tract, preventing stomach acid from displacing in the first place.
Furthermore, these foods soothe the burn. Have you ever used oatmeal to alleviate the pain of sunburn? A similar effect occurs internally. What should you eat? Here are some ideas:
- Whole grain breads, cereals and crackers: Stay away from processed and enriched products, which contain little fiber and absorb quickly, spiking your blood sugar. Some people swear by sprouted grains like Ezekiel bread for the extra nutritional boost and purity assurance.
- Most fresh fruits and vegetables: You should avoid certain varieties, but most fruits and vegetables contain oodles of filling fiber. For example, apples contain pectin, which your intestines love.
- Beans and lentils: These make fabulous plant-based protein alternatives. They’re rich in fiber to stop GERD, although some people develop gas because of an indigestible sugar called raffinose. It causes no harm but can make you uncomfortable — adding a bit of kelp or kombu can decrease the effect.
Alkaline foods have a pH larger than seven. They’re the opposite of acids and can help neutralize some of the excess. As a result, any backflow causes less pain.
Alkaline foods include most fruits and vegetables, nuts and legumes. Starches, sugars and natural fats are considered neutral, whereas meat, dairy, fish and eggs are acidic. Fortunately, switching to a more plant-based diet has benefits beyond relieving GERD symptoms, including keeping the planet greener and decreasing your risk of certain cancers.
Watery foods include many fruits, although you must take care with citrus because of the acid content. Others, like watermelon, are more alkaline and contain up to 90% water, speeding weight loss while leaving you sated. Even the most corrosive acid becomes harmless when diluted far enough. Consider adding more of these treats to your diet:
Some foods aggravate GERD in certain susceptible individuals but not others. You might also go through periods where attacks come more hot and heavy and you must monitor your consumption carefully. Exercise caution with the following, testing them through trial and error and avoiding those that give you grief.
- Pineapple: Pineapples are highly acidic and may aggravate symptoms.
- Citrus: These fruits are highly acidic.
- Garlic and onions: These foods contain sulfur compounds that can stimulate stomach acid production.
- Tomatoes: Tomatoes are highly acidic.
- Spicy foods: The capsaicin in hot peppers makes them highly acidic, although regular bell peppers are free of this troublesome ingredient. Stick with green and red, and use caution with jalapeños.
Are there any foods you should approach with high skepticism, even eliminate from your diet, if you have GERD? Yes — avoid those high in fats.
If you think back to high school biology, you’ll remember that proteins and carbohydrates contain four calories apiece, while fat has nine. This reality has implications beyond your waistline. Fatty foods take longer to digest, so they sit in your stomach, stimulating acid production. When you lie down at night, a red-hot bolt of flame shoots up into your throat, making sleep impossible.
Stay away from the following foods if you have GERD, especially as bedtime approaches:
- French fries
- Red and processed meats
- Soft cheeses
- Potato chips
- Poultry skins
- Most gravies and foods containing them, like pot pie
- Baked goods containing butter or shortening.
- Ice cream
What About OTC Pain Relief?
If you have GERD symptoms, you’ve undoubtedly scoured store shelves with their prolific offerings of various antacids to find relief. Let’s face it — there will be times when you go to that birthday party and eat cake and ice cream before bed. You’re human and should experience the good things in life.
OTC relief can help in such cases. You have three choices:
- Antacids: Include medicines like Tums, Milk of Magnesia and Rolaids. As a bonus, many such products supply you with calcium, magnesium or both, which are necessary nutrients.
- Histamine-2 agonists: Include Zantac, Pepcid and Tagamet. These treat GERD and stomach ulcers, but use caution with products containing ranitidine. The FDA recently issued a recall because of a link to cancer.
- Proton-pump inhibitors: Include Prilosec, Nexium and Prevacid. You should use these drugs for no longer than 14 days at a stretch to avoid increasing stomach cancer risks.
Some drugs, like Prilosec, work best if you take a single dose in the morning. Experiment with antacids. Although most people feel more significant relief when they take these products after eating, some have succeeded in getting a “jump” on the game by taking them up to 30 minutes before indulging.
Eat to Combat Acid Reflux
Symptoms of GERD can turn pleasant activities like eating into a misery. What can you do to get relief?
Fortunately, noninvasive lifestyle changes are your best means of defense. Learn the best and worst foods for acid reflux and take control of your symptoms with the GERD diet.
About the Author:
Mia Barnes is a health and wellness writer with a passion for nutrition and mindful eating. Mia is also the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Body + Mind Magazine, an online healthy living publication. When not writing, you can find Mia reading mystery novels or practicing yoga