It’s not uncommon to have occasional heartburn after a large, spicy, or very rich meal. But if you experience that burning, uncomfortable feeling in your chest or throat frequently, you might have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Your diet can affect your symptoms, so learning your GERD food triggers and following a GERD diet can help.
What Causes GERD?
GERD is a chronic form of reflux that occurs more frequently than regular heartburn. It happens when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) muscle becomes weak or relaxes too much. Your LES muscles are at the end of your esophagus, where it meets the stomach.
Usually, the LES muscle closes tightly after you eat or drink. That prevents stomach acid from backing up into your esophagus. The sphincter muscle doesn’t close tightly with GERD, so acid escapes from your stomach and gets into your esophagus.
Unlike regular heartburn, which happens once in a while, GERD causes more frequent symptoms like:
- Burning in the middle of your chest or throat.
- Regurgitation or stomach contents coming up into your throat or mouth.
- Chest pain.
- Problems swallowing.
- Coughing or hoarseness.
It’s important to talk to your doctor if you have GERD symptoms because it might lead to more serious problems. However, lifestyle changes often help, and they start with your diet.
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Foods That Cause Acid Reflux
Diet plays a significant role in triggering GERD symptoms because certain foods cause your LES muscle to relax more than others. Limiting GERD trigger foods often helps reduce symptoms.
High-fat foods are some of the worst foods for acid reflux because they relax your LES. That’s why your heartburn symptoms might worsen after eating things like fast food, fried foods, or rich, creamy foods. But other foods and beverages also relax your LES muscle, or they irritate your esophagus, both of which trigger the burn.
Here are some foods to limit if you have GERD:
- High-fat foods like fried foods, pizza, chips, or any foods with lots of cheese, cream, butter, or oil.
- Fatty meats like burgers, steak, bacon, or sausages.
- Spicy foods like Mexican or Thai food.
- Acidic foods like tomato sauce, orange or grapefruit juice, or citrus fruits.
- Coffee or other sources of caffeine.
- Carbonated beverages like soda or seltzer water.
If you have frequent heartburn, try cutting out or eating smaller portions of these foods and see if your symptoms improve. Everyone is different, and there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all diet for GERD. But limiting these foods is often a great start.
Foods That Help Acid Reflux
Just as certain foods worsen symptoms, other foods help acid reflux. They’re all healthy foods, so they’ll help you manage symptoms while being good for you too. Some of the best foods for GERD include:
- High fiber foods like 100% whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables. The fiber in these foods fills you, so you tend to eat less, reducing pressure on your LES.
- Lean meats, like chicken, fish, and turkey.
- Lower fat proteins, like eggs, tofu, and beans.
- Small amounts of healthy fats like nuts, seeds, peanut butter, avocados, and olive oil.
- Non-carbonated beverages, like non-mint herbal tea, non-citrus juices (like apple or grape), or plain water.
You may wonder, “Does milk help acid reflux?” Some people believe that it coats your esophagus and can reduce reflux. But not all milk or dairy products are the same.
When choosing dairy foods like milk, yogurt, or ice cream, make sure to choose low-fat versions. The fat in regular, full-fat dairy foods can trigger reflux symptoms.
Other Diet Strategies to Try
For many people, how you eat is just as important as what you eat. Aside from limiting the most common foods that can cause acid reflux, these other diet strategies can help reduce GERD symptoms.
First, try eating smaller meals. Regardless of what foods they include, large meals fill your stomach and put extra pressure on your LES muscle. If smaller meals leave you hungry, add small, low-fat snacks in between meals.
Next, try to eat earlier in the day when you’re up and about. Stomach acid is more likely to back up into your esophagus when you lie down after eating. Eat your last meal of the day a bit earlier, so you have at least three hours to digest before lying down or going to bed.
Finally, slow down your eating and relax during mealtime. Speed eating doesn’t directly affect your LES pressure, but it may cause an upset stomach. And eating too fast or when you’re busy and stressed often leads to overeating, which can trigger heartburn.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Eating, Diet & Nutrition for GER & GERD.LINK
About Digestive Disorders
The UPMC Digestive Disorders Center cares for a wide range of gastrointestinal (GI) conditions and diseases, from diagnosis to treatment. Whether your digestive condition is common or complicated, our experts can help. 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. Find a GI doctor near you.