If you have acid reflux, it may sometimes feel like you can't eat anything without it triggering a painful flare-up. But rest assured, there are plenty foods you can eat.
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Acid reflux occurs when stomach contents leak into the esophagus, often causing heartburn or sour burps. Certain foods — including chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, and acidic or spicy foods — are thought to trigger acid reflux in some people.
However, the 2013 American College of Gastroenterology guidelines explain that there isn't enough evidence to avoid entire groups of food, because individual response to foods varies.
But there are some foods that generally may be better tolerated than others. So the first step in constructing a GERD-friendly diet is to try to eat a healthy and balanced diet. Here are four categories to start with (and some foods to try to avoid).
1. Grains and Fiber
Even though current diet trends favor low-carb diets, if you have acid reflux, getting the right kind of carbs can help you minimize symptoms. According to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020, the recommended daily intake of whole grains should be at least half your total grain consumption.
Whole-grain foods contain more dietary fiber than those with highly refined grains. According to a May 2005 article in the journal "Gut," a high-fiber diet is associated with a decreased risk of reflux symptoms.
Examples of high-fiber grain foods include:
- Whole-grain rice cereal
- Whole-grain oat pancakes
- Whole-grain bagels
- Whole-grain pasta
- Whole-grain bread
Highly refined-grain foods to avoid (or limit) include:
- White flour bagels
- While breads
Many desserts also contain highly refined white flour and are, therefore, low in fiber. Healthful desserts for people with acid reflux include:
- Whole-grain bread pudding
- A fruit crisp topped with toasted oatmeal
2. Fruits and Vegetables
Probably no surprise here, but fruits and vegetables are essential components of a healthful, well-balanced diet. Plus, they can have added benefits for people with acid reflux since they're high in fiber. Here are some less acidic choices to include in your diet:
- Most vegetables
Acidic vegetables and fruits can make reflux worse for some people, so try to avoid or limit these:
- Tomato products
- Other citrus fruits and juices
3. High-Protein, Low-Fat Foods
Protein is an important part of any healthy, balanced diet, but if you have GERD, choose carefully. Opt for lean, skinless protein sources with relatively low-fat content. Here are some high-protein, low-fat options:
- Egg whites
Foods with high-fat content (which can sometimes go hand in hand with high-protein foods) can trigger or worsen acid reflux symptoms, as reported by the authors of the May 2005 "Gut" article. Examples include fried foods and fatty meats.
Avoiding foods and meals with high fat content is also better for weight control. Weight control is important, because excess weight can put extra pressure on the abdomen, making acid reflux more likely.
4. Dairy Products
Don't forget the dairy! Reduced-fat and nonfat diary products are best for people with acid reflux, since high-fat foods might aggravate or trigger reflux symptoms. Milk, yogurt and cheese are good sources of protein and essential nutrients.
For those who have problems with dairy foods, because of reflux symptoms or cow's milk allergy, there are many plant-based substitutes available, such as soy and almond milk, cheese and yogurt. If dairy foods don't bother you, there's no evidence to support removing it from your diet.
Find What Works for You
There's no single recommended diet for people with acid reflux, because trigger foods differ from one person to another. Keep a journal of what foods you can eat without symptoms and those that aggravate or trigger your reflux symptoms.
If your reflux symptoms are severe or frequent, it's important that you see your doctor. Left untreated, frequent reflux can damage your esophagus, causing problems such as difficulty swallowing or esophageal cancer.
Read more: The 10 Worst Foods for Acid Reflux
What Do YOU Think?
Do you have acid reflux? What foods do you enjoy eating? What foods do you try to avoid or limit? Do you keep a food journal? Do you find that it helps? Share your thoughts, suggestions and questions in the comments below!
Reviewed and revised by: Jonathan E. Aviv, M.D., FACS