GERD is short for gastroesophageal (GAS-trow-ee-soff-uh-GEE-ol) reflux disease.

When we eat, food passes from the throat and into the stomach through a tube. This tube is the esophagus (ee-SOFF-uh-gus). Sometimes it’s called the food pipe.

At the bottom is a ring of muscles that acts as a valve between the esophagus and stomach. This is the lower esophageal (ee-soff-uh-GEE-ol) sphincter (ss-FINK-ter).

These muscles in the lower esophagus can become weak. Food, smoking, and alcohol may weaken the sphincter, so it may stop closing properly.

The contents in the stomach then may leak back, or “reflux,” into the esophagus. We call this problem “GERD.”

Never Miss a Beat!

Get Healthy Tips Sent to Your Phone!

Message and data rates may apply. Text STOP to opt out and HELP for help. Go to for privacy and terms.

GERD Signs and Symptoms

Heartburn is the most common symptom of GERD.

When acid in the stomach refluxes, it touches the lining of the esophagus. This can cause a burning feeling in your chest or throat. We call this sensation heartburn or acid indigestion.

You can have heartburn once in a while without having GERD. But if you have heartburn more than twice a week, it’s likely you have GERD.

If you don’t have heartburn, you can still have GERD.

Suggested Diet for GERD

Find foods and drinks to choose and to avoid, as well as a sample menu, to help relieve or prevent GERD.

Along with the foods to avoid below, very hot or very cold food can increase reflux.


Choose Avoid
  • Skim or 1% milk.
  • Decaf, non-mint, and herbal teas.
  • Juices, except those to avoid.
  • Soft drink mixes, such as Crystal Lite.
  • Caffeine- free beverages.
  • Whole, 2%, and chocolate milk.
  • Alcohol.
  • Regular or decaf coffee.
  • Tea that has caffeine.
  • Mint tea.
  • Soda, pop, or carbonated beverages.
  • Citrus juices and drinks such as orange, grapefruit, lemon, lime, and pineapple.

Breads and grains

Choose Avoid
  • All breads and grains prepared with low-fat content.
  • Any prepared with whole milk or high-fat content, such as sweet rolls, muffins, biscuits, and croissants.


Choose Avoid
  • All vegetables, except those to avoid.
  • Fried or cream-style vegetables.
  • Tomatoes and tomato sauce.


Choose Avoid
  • Any fresh, canned, or cooked fruits, except those to avoid.
  • Citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruit, lemons, limes, and pineapples.

Soups and seasonings

Choose Avoid
  • All herbs and spices, except those to avoid.
  • Fat-free broths.
  • Homemade soups with lean meat, allowed vegetables (no tomatoes), and skim milk.
  • Cream, cheese, or tomato-based soups.
  • Herbs and spices found in tomato sauces such as basil, oregano, and garlic.
  • Chili and jalapeno peppers.
  • Vinegar.

Meats and substitutes

Choose Avoid
  • Baked, boiled, or broiled beef, pork, lamb, veal, skinless poultry, or fish.
  • Low-fat lunchmeats.
  • Cooked dried beans and peas.
  • Peanut butter, if tolerated.
  • Eggs.
  • Low-fat cheeses.
  • Fatty or fried beef, pork, lamb, veal, poultry, and fish.
  • Fried eggs.
  • Bacon.
  • Sausage, hot dogs.
  • Pepperoni.
  • Fatty lunchmeats.

Fats and oils: Limit to 3 servings per day

Choose Avoid
  • Butter and margarine.
  • Vegetable oils.
  • Mayonnaise.
  • Mildly seasoned salad dressings.
  • Plain cream cheese.
  • Fried foods.
  • Cream sauces and gravies.
  • Highly seasoned salad dressings.
  • Bacon fat, ham fat, lard, and salt pork.
  • Nuts.

Sweets and desserts

Choose Avoid
  • Sugar, honey, jelly, jam, syrup, marshmallows.
  • Angel food cake.
  • Non-fat or low-fat pudding, custard, ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet.
  • Low-fat cookies.
  • Gelatin made from allowed foods.
  • Sweets and desserts with chocolate, peppermint, or spearmint (including flavoring).
  • High-fat pastries.
  • Nuts.
  • Hard or cream-filled candy.
  • Chewing gum.

Sample Menu for People with GERD

  • 3/4 cup cereal
  • 1 cup skim or 1% milk
  • 1 egg, poached
  • 1 slice toast or bread
  • 1 teaspoon margarine
  • Caffeine-free drink
Mid-Morning Snack
  • 1/2 cup canned fruit (non-citrus) or 1 small, fresh fruit (non-citrus)
  • 3 oz. chicken
  • 1/2 cup rice
  • 1/2 cup spinach
  • 1 teaspoon margarine
  • 1/2 cup fruit juice (non-citrus)
Mid-Afternoon Snack
  • 5 saltine crackers
  • 1/4 cup low-fat cottage cheese
  • 3 oz. baked fish
  • 1 medium potato
  • 1/2 cup carrots
  • 1 teaspoon margarine
  • 1 cup skim or 1% milk
  • Water

Learn more about GERD treatment at UPMC’s Esophageal and Lung Surgery Institute.

About Digestive Disorders

The UPMC Digestive Disorders Center cares for a wide range of gastrointestinal conditions and diseases, from diagnosis to treatment. Upon referral from your physician, we coordinate your testing and treatment. If you have a complicated condition, we can refer you to one of UPMC’s digestive health centers of excellence. Most of our office visits and outpatient procedures take place at UPMC Presbyterian or UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Oakland. We also provide inpatient care at UPMC Montefiore or UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland.