GERD, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, is a condition in which food and acid in the stomach leak backward into the esophagus, causing heartburn and other symptoms. MedlinePlus says that left untreated, GERD can lead to other problems, ranging from tooth erosion and the formation of scar tissue to breathing problems, bleeding and increased risk of cancer. Treatment begins, according to MedlinePlus, with diet and lifestyle change. Vegetarians with GERD face special challenges, so ask your doctor for a referral to a registered dietitian to make sure you meet your nutritional needs.
The American Dietetic Association says that a vegetarian diet is one that does not include meat, poultry, seafood or foods made from these items. The ADA distinguishes between lacto-ovo, lacto- and total vegetarian diets. Lacto-ovo vegetarian diets include dairy products and eggs, lacto-vegetarian diets include dairy but not eggs, and total vegetarian diets, also known as vegan diets, do not include eggs or dairy products. The adaptations required for GERD symptoms vary by the type of vegetarian diet you follow.
Foods to Enjoy
Fruits and vegetables -- with the exception of citrus and tomatoes -- form the foundation of a healthy diet for GERD. Dr. Rian Podein of the University of Wisconsin-Madison says that flavonoids found in fruits and vegetables curb the growth of bacteria that contribute to stomach acidity. Podein specifically suggests eating broccoli or broccoli sprouts at least twice a week. Grains are generally GERD neutral. Safe protein sources for vegetarians with GERD include egg whites, egg substitutes, non-cow’s milk dairy products such as feta or chevre cheese, and legumes.
Foods to Limit
In the 2007 edition of his book “Integrative Medicine”, University of Washington professor David Rakel says that substances in cow’s milk trigger GERD symptoms for some people. Cow’s milk foods to limit include milk, yogurt, low-fat cottage cheese and cheeses such as cheddar or mozzarella. Foods made from whole soy -- such as tofu, edamame, soy milk or cheese and soy "nuts" -- peanuts, tree nuts or egg yolk are protein staples for many vegetarians. However, because their fat content can potentiate acid secretion, you should proceed with caution and avoid consuming them at the end of the day or as part of a large meal.
Foods to Avoid
Podein says that all people with GERD should avoid fatty foods, chocolate, caffeine, peppermint, alcohol, citrus fruits and tomato products. For vegetarians, this means avoiding fried tofu, fried eggs and fatty dairy products such as ice cream or sour cream. Fermented foods such as miso and tempeh also can pose problems.
The ADA says that some vegetarians have difficulty meeting needs for vitamin B12, calcium, iron and zinc. If you are a vegetarian who also takes over-the-counter or prescription medications for GERD, ask your doctor about monitoring these nutrients. Acids in the stomach help your body absorb them, but GERD medications decrease the acidity of your stomach by neutralizing secreted acid, in the case of antacids, or decreasing acid secretion, in the case of H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors. Over time, deficiencies in these nutrients can produce complications such as anemia, osteoporosis and, in the case of B12 deficiency, neurological problems.
If you continue to experience symptoms despite making changes to your diet, see your doctor, who might recommend other treatments to control your GERD. Also ask about registered dietitian services. Modifying a vegetarian diet to accommodate GERD can be difficult. A registered dietitian can help you tailor your diet to your individual food preferences and lifestyle, or to manage another health problem, such as diabetes.
- MedlinePlus: Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
- “Integrative Medicine”; David Rakel, M.D.; 2007
- University of Wisconsin: Integrative Medicine: Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
- American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets