If you have acid reflux, you should eat a healthy and balanced diet. 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 is not 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.
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Grains and Fiber
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 popcorn, whole-grain rice cereal, whole-grain oat pancakes, and whole-grain bagels, pasta and bread. Highly refined-grain foods include white flour bagels, breads, crackers and pastries. Many desserts also contain highly refined white flour and are, therefore, low in fiber. Healthful desserts for people with acid reflux would be a whole-grain bread pudding or a fruit crisp topped with toasted oatmeal, for example.
Eating high-fat 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. Lean skinless chicken, fish, tuna, tofu and egg whites are examples of relatively low-fat protein sources if you have acid reflux. Nuts and seeds can also be good sources of protein. Beans are also a healthy, low-fat protein source and have the added benefit of being rich in fiber.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are essential components of a healthful, well-balanced diet -- and can have added benefits for people with acid reflux. Eating more fruits and vegetables can help you control your weight. Fruits and vegetables are also high in fiber, another plus for people trying to control reflux. Acidic vegetables and fruits -- such as tomato products, oranges, lemons and other citrus fruits and juices -- can make reflux worse for some people. Less acidic fruits, such as bananas, melons and mangoes, may be better choices. Vegetables are generally less acidic than fruits, so incorporate them into your meal plans.
Milk, yogurt and cheese are good sources of protein and essential nutrients. Reduced-fat and nonfat diary products are best for people with acid reflux, since high-fat foods might aggravate or trigger reflux symptoms. 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 is no evidence to support removing it from your diet.
Next Steps and Precautions
There is no single recommended diet for people with reflux, because trigger foods differ from one person to another. Keep a journal of what foods you can eat without symptoms versus those that aggravate or trigger your reflux symptoms. If your reflux symptoms are severe or frequent, it is important that you see your doctor. Left untreated, frequent reflux can damage your esophagus, causing problems such as difficulty swallowing or esophageal cancer.
Medical advisor: Jonathan E. Aviv, M.D., FACS