Forty percent of Americans experience heartburn once a month, and 15 percent to 20 percent experience it at least once per week. When heartburn becomes a part of your everyday life, you may be experiencing gastroesophageal reflux disease. Also called GERD, this condition is the result of stomach acid escaping up into the esophagus. The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) keeps food in the stomach, but when the pressure of the LES is altered, it can open up and allow food back into the esophagus. By eating foods that maintain LES pressure, avoiding those that lower it and making simple lifestyle changes, you can keep your GERD under control.
Up the Protein
A diet that is high in protein will stimulate gastric secretion and increase LES pressure. This will keep gastric juices from making their way back up your esophagus. Be sure that your protein choices are low in fat, as high-fat meats will worsen GERD symptoms. Low-fat protein choices include baked or grilled chicken without the skin, fish, turkey, beans and legumes.
A diet high in fiber is associated with a decreased risk for Barrett’s esophagus, a result of chronic GERD. Total fiber, as well as fiber from fruits and vegetables, is associated with a lower risk and may be protective against the GERD symptoms. Aim to get between 20 and 35 grams of fiber per day from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes.
When acid from the stomach enters the mouth, it can cause dental erosion and bad breath. Chewing sugarless gum after meals may reduce reflux because of the increased saliva production, creating an increase in swallowing frequency. As you swallow, you are improving the removing the reflux from the mouth, preventing the disintegration of your teeth and gums.
Foods to Avoid
When it comes to managing GERD, what you don’t eat is sometimes more important than what you do eat. Fatty foods, caffeine, chocolate, peppermint, garlic, onion and alcohol all lower the pressure of the LES, resulting in an increase in GERD symptoms. Foods that are high in acid, such as citrus juices, tomato juices and other spices may be irritating to the esophagus and should be avoided if they cause unwanted symptoms.
A change in lifestyle can provide drastic relief for GERD patients. Avoid smoking and being around those who smoke. Smoking lowers the pressure of the LES and slows the emptying rate of the stomach. Raising the head of the bed by 6 inches allows gravity to keep food from escaping the stomach. Bloating causes the LES to become weakened; avoid stomach bloating by eating smaller meals, and stop eating no later than two to three hours before bed. Losing excess weight will also help alleviate GERD symptoms. If your GERD worsens, visit your doctor to find the best treatment for you.
- International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders: Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Diet and the Lower Esophageal Sphincter
- National Institutes of Health Public Access: Effects of Dietary Fiber, Fats, and Meat Intakes on the Risk of Barrett’s Esophagus
- Wolters Kluwer Health, UpToDate: Patient Information: High-Fiber Diet (Beyond the Basics)
- Journal of Dental Research: The Effect of Chewing Sugar-Free Gum on Gastro-esophageal Reflux