Hernia got you down? While your diet can't cure it, knowing which foods to eat and which foods to avoid if you have hernia may help keep symptoms at bay.
A hernia forms when there is a weakness or hole in a portion of muscle tissue near an organ, and part of that organ bulges or pushes through the hole, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). Hernias do not usually get better on their own, which is why most people need surgery to repair it, per the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).
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But experts say tailoring your diet can, in some cases, prevent a hernia from getting bigger and more painful. Here are the best foods to eat and avoid with different types of hernias.
Work with your doctor to determine the best hernia treatment strategy for you, diet and otherwise.
Inguinal and Umbilical Hernias
Most hernias happen in the lower or upper abdominal area and cause a lump under the skin, according to the AAFP. Inguinal hernias develop in the lower abdominal wall around the groin area. Umbilical hernias form around the belly button, and are particularly common in infants (though adults can develop them, too).
Umbilical hernias in particular can cause a bulge near the navel or ruptured-looking belly button, especially for babies. And any abdominal hernia can mimic digestive problems like belly pain, vomiting or constipation, given their location, per the AAFP.
Digestive issues like bloating and constipation can aggravate abdominal hernias by putting extra strain on the area, says Mary Ann Hopkins, MD, a general surgeon at NYU Langone Health and an associate professor of surgery at NYU's Grossman School of Medicine in New York City.
Accordingly, Dr. Hopkins says to avoid foods that trigger these symptoms to avoid potentially pushing the intestinal tissue further into the abdominal wall and causing more discomfort.
Though there are no foods that can cure a hernia, here are some tips to optimize your inguinal or umbilical hernia diet plan.
Foods to Eat
Fibrous foods are your best bet to help stave off constipation (and the hernia pain that can come with it), according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Avoiding constipation is also preventive, as chronic constipation can increase the risk of developing a hernia in the first place, per the NLM.
To fight constipation, the NIDDK recommends eating more high-fiber foods like:
- Whole grains like spelt and buckwheat
- Legumes like lentils, peas and beans
Ironically, eating too many high-fiber foods too fast may lead to the excess bloating that can aggravate hernia symptoms in the first place, according to the Mayo Clinic. That's why it’s important to gradually introduce them into your diet to allow your body time to adjust, per the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders.
Foods to Limit or Avoid
While eating plenty of fiber can help you avoid constipation, certain fibrous foods may cause more gas and bloating than others, including:
- Cruciferous vegetables like cabbage and broccoli
- Onions and garlic
- Certain fruits, including apples, pears,
cherries and dried fruit
Per the Mayo Clinic, other potentially gas-inducing foods to limit or avoid include:
- Dairy products like milk and cheese
- Beer and other carbonated drinks
- Chewing gum
- Hard candy
It's equally important to eat and drink even non-gassy foods slowly and thoroughly to avoid swallowing a lot of air, a common consequence of gulping down your meals that can add to bloat, per the Mayo Clinic.
How Much Fiber Should You Eat Per Day?
Here's how much fiber you should aim to eat every day, according to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans:
- People assigned female at birth: 22 to 28 g
- People assigned male at birth: 28 to 34 g
With a hiatal hernia, the upper part of the stomach protrudes through the diaphragm (the muscle that separates the abdomen from the chest), allowing stomach acid to easily enter the esophagus, according to the Cleveland Clinic. As a result, these hernias are often accompanied by digestive tract issues that resemble chronic acid reflux, including:
- Difficulty swallowing
Here are some foods to eat and avoid with a hiatal hernia to prevent these issues.
Foods to Eat
You may be able to control the pain and discomfort of a hiatal hernia with your diet in the same way you would tame acid reflux, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Try snacking on fibrous, low-acid foods like:
- Green vegetables like spinach and kale
Foods to Limit or Avoid
On the flip side, limit or avoid eating foods that contribute to acid reflux symptoms, per the Cleveland Clinic. Here are the acid-inducing foods to steer clear of:
- Acidic foods like tomato sauce and citrus fruits and juices
- Fried and fatty foods
- Carbonated beverages
- Alcoholic beverages
- Coffee and other sources of caffeine like certain teas or energy drinks
- Ketchup and mustard
- Spicy foods
Other Ways to Manage Hernias
Your diet isn't the only tool to help ease or prevent hernia discomfort. Here are tips from Johns Hopkins Medicine and the Cleveland Clinic that may also help keep symptoms at bay:
- Drink plenty of water
- Exercise regularly
- Go to the bathroom when you feel the urge
- Quit smoking
- Avoid wearing tight clothing around your abdomen
- Avoid lying down soon after eating
Curious about how much water you should drink in a day? Try this calculation:
- Body weight (in pounds) ÷ 2 = minimum ounces of water you should drink per day
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Hernia”
- Mayo Clinic: “Belching, Gas and Bloating: Tips for Reducing Them”
- American Academy of Family Physicians: “Hernia”
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Eating, Diet, and Nutrition for Constipation”
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Inguinal Hernia”
- Cleveland Clinic: “Hiatal Hernia”
- International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders: "Dietary Fiber"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.