If you experience frequent heartburn or indigestion, you probably know what foods tend to bring about such discomforts. While there are a host of common triggers — from citrus fruits to carbonated drinks — there are also plenty of foods that can help keep your symptoms at bay.
Heartburn and indigestion are symptoms of acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux (GER). This reflux happens when stomach contents come back up into your esophagus.
In many cases, the symptoms of acid reflux can be easily controlled by diet and lifestyle factors, per the University of Chicago Medicine. But without properly monitoring the condition, complications over time can lead to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), as outlined by the National Institutes of Health. GERD is a more severe and long-lasting condition that includes the uncomfortable symptoms of GER.
Taking care of yourself by being mindful of your diet can help keep acid reflux under control before it leads to GERD. If you live with either condition, you probably already have that list of "no" foods in your head — spicy foods, chocolate, carbonated beverages, acidic foods and high-fat or greasy foods. And you may have been told to not lie down shortly after eating and eat slowly.
While all of these recommendations are important, it can get pretty frustrating to hear what you can't eat all the time. So let's focus on what you can eat.
The 6 Best Foods for Acid Reflux
For starters, if it helps to think of a specific diet pattern that can help manage your acid reflux, the Mediterranean diet might work for you, according to August 2019 research in Thoracic Disease.
Many of the foods in this diet pattern are ones that nutrition experts recommend to help keep acid reflux under control.
Fruits are often considered forbidden on a reflux diet, but there are only some that you should steer clear of, such as citrus fruits and juices. Otherwise, fruits, in general, are linked with a lower risk of developing GERD, according to a November 2017 study in Research in Medical Sciences.
Acid reflux can lead to esophagitis, which is inflammation in the esophagus. Keeping that inflammation under control if you have acid reflux may help to keep your reflux from progressing to esophagitis. Fruits are an important part of an anti-inflammatory diet, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Lauren O'Connor, RDN, who specializes in treating GERD, recommends these specific fruits, which won't trigger acid reflux:
In addition to these fruits, blueberries, raspberries and apples are also reflux-friendly fruits, Shahzadi Devje, RD, says.
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2. Whole Grains and Pulses
Whole grains and pulses are great foods to eat with acid reflux — not only because they benefit overall health, but because they are generally higher in fiber than other foods. Fiber may keep your acid reflux symptoms from creeping up so often.
By getting enough fiber in your diet, the processes of digestion and the emptying of your stomach occur more quickly. Eating more fiber has also been shown to increase the pressure of the lower esophageal sphincter, which is the main culprit in letting stomach contents back up into the esophagus, causing heartburn, according to June 2018 research in the World Journal of Gastroenterology.
In other words, fiber may help keep your lower esophageal sphincter from opening up and can help move everything along quicker to decrease the pressure and distention in your stomach.
"Oatmeal and other whole grains are soothing and easily tolerated. They're rich in fiber and low in sugar, which may help reduce GERD symptoms," Abbey Sharp, RD, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
Other whole grains good for GERD include:
- Whole-wheat and rye bread
- Brown rice
- Air-popped popcorn
O'Connor recommends these pulses to prevent acid reflux:
- All dry beans, such as black, kidney and pinto beans
- All lentils
- Pigeon peas
Vegetables are a good choice for acid reflux because they are generally easy on the stomach. "There are plenty of veggies suitable for those with reflux," O'Connor says, "and getting a variety and plenty is essential for healing."
She recommends the following:
- Butternut squash
Vegetables are a main part of the Mediterranean diet. Experts recommend getting three or more servings of veggies each day, with one serving equivalent to either 1/2 cup cooked vegetables or 1 cup raw, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
You might be thinking that three servings a day doesn't sound like much, but the majority of Americans aren't getting enough. In fact, only around 9 percent are meeting the recommendation for vegetables, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Vegetables can help you meet the recommendation for fiber, which is 14 grams for every 1,000 calories per day, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Maybe this isn't exactly "food," but defining some good-for-you liquids on this list is pretty important. While water doesn't have a healing effect on its own, replacing other drinks with H2O may help relieve your reflux symptoms.
You'll want to avoid sparkling or carbonated water, as these have been found to worsen symptoms.
For some people with GERD, bloating can be a symptom that's not just uncomfortable, but can also contribute to stomach distention, according to January 2018 research in Gut and Liver. While it may seem counterintuitive to cut out the bloat with liquid, that is precisely what you should do.
Drinking water may also help dilute stomach acid, says Elizabeth Ward, RDN — and this can be incredibly helpful if you naturally produce a lot of stomach acid. She also recommends chewing gum, which "increases the production of saliva and also dilutes stomach acid."
If you need more ideas for soothing liquids, O'Connor recommends ginger tea.
"Ginger helps with digestion by stimulating saliva and gastric enzymes," she says. "It eliminates excess gas and is soothing to the intestinal tract."
To make ginger tea at home, O'Connor recommends boiling a few slices of peeled ginger root in hot water over the stove. Then, strain out the ginger pieces and allow the liquid to cool enough so that you can comfortably sip.
How to Reduce Acid Reflux Symptoms
Be Mindful of Portions
The food you eat is just as important as how you live your life to prevent acid reflux. Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, stresses the importance of some other best eating practices.
"To tame reflux, it's not just about allowed and avoid lists, it's also about portion sizes," she says. "People who overeat at one sitting might have great discomfort than those that split their meals and snacks into smaller portions throughout the day."
O'Connor agrees with Taub-Dix's advice, adding that "it is important to chew slowly, eat smaller meals evenly spaced throughout the day, sip, don't gulp beverages, remain upright following meals and refrain from eating at least three hours before going to bed."
If your acid reflux seems to be getting worse and you can no longer manage the symptoms with lifestyle and diet modifications, go see your doctor. Uncontrolled reflux can lead to more serious complications and your doctor may help identify alternative methods to get it under control.
- National Institutes of Health: "Acid Reflux in Adults"
- The Journal of Thoracic Disease: "The Role of Diet in the Development and Management of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease: Why We Feel the Burn"
- Harvard Medical School: "Foods That Fight Inflammation"
- World Journal of Gastroenterology: "Fiber-enriched diet helps to control symptoms and improves esophageal motility in patients with non-erosive gastroesophageal reflux disease"
- Gut and Liver: "Current Trends in the Management of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease"
- Journal of Research in Medical Sciences: "The Relationship Between Fruit and Vegetable Intake with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease in Iranian Adults"
- Cleveland Clinic: "How to Get Started on the Mediterranean Diet"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Only 1 in 10 Adults Get Enough Fruits and Vegetables"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Fiber"
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "GERD Diet: Foods That Help with Acid Reflux (Heartburn)
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "10 Tips to Prevent Acid Reflux Disease"
- Lauren O'Connor, RD
- Shahzadi Devje, RD
- Abbey Sharp, RD
- Elizabeth Ward, RD
- Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD