You may have had heartburn after eating a meal that was large, heavy and rich. Reaching for antacids may help relieve the pain, but if the heartburn is chronic, you might have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). To avoid triggering an attack, get to know what you should and should not eat.
What Is GERD?
GERD happens when the contents of your stomach back up into your esophagus, causing heartburn. The condition is broken down into two categories: Gastroesophageal reflux (GER) occurs less frequently, while GERD is chronic and more serious, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
When the acid from your stomach regularly flows up into your esophagus, it irritates and causes inflammation to the lining of the esophagus, says the Mayo Clinic. This typically occurs when you swallow food or liquid and the lower esophageal sphincter muscle (the band of muscle that encircles the bottom of the esophagus) relaxes, allowing the acid to back up, it adds. Normally, the lower esophageal sphincter muscle opens when you swallow and then tightly closes once the food reaches the stomach.
Symptoms of a GERD Attack
If you believe you have GERD, Harvard Health Publishing and the Mayo Clinic say some of the most common symptoms are:
- A burning sensation in your chest that occurs after a meal
- Chest pain and tightness
- Backflow of sour stomach fluids into the mouth
- Trouble swallowing
- Regurgitated food or liquid
- A chronic cough
- Hoarse voice, sore throat
sour taste in your mouth
Should any of these symptoms appear frequently and you are taking excessive amounts of antacids for relief, make an appointment with your doctor to determine the severity of your condition.
Read more: GERD: Its Signs and Symptoms
Foods to Eat and Avoid
To minimize GERD symptoms and the risk of a GERD attack, Harvard Health Publishing recommends eating smaller meals, trying to relax while eating and staying upright for three hours after eating. It also suggests losing any extra weight you might have, to reduce the pressure around your stomach, and to wear looser-fitting clothing that doesn't fit tightly around your waistline.
In addition, quit smoking, as stomach acid is triggered by nicotine, which also plays a role in relaxing the lower esophageal sphincter muscle. Stress tends to increase stomach acid, so learn to relax with meditation and other relaxation techniques.
"For some people who have GERD, they're not able to tolerate certain foods like some sweets as well as chocolate, alcohol, caffeinated beverages that include coffee and caffeinated tea," she says. For others, those are not on the long list of foods that might trigger GERD symptoms.
Krikhely recommends, in general, to avoid very fatty foods like whole milk, pastries, different types of oils, butter or fried foods and pastries. Other food products that can make symptoms worse include tomatoes and tomato sauces, citrus fruits such as oranges, spicy foods, garlic, onions, peppermint, spearmint and alcoholic beverages.
However, on the what's-good-to-eat list that won't aggravate GERD symptoms, the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders recommends bananas, melons, apples and pears, a wide variety of vegetables, lean proteins such as eggs and lean meat as well as complex carbs like oatmeal, whole-grain bread, couscous and rice and starchy vegetables like potatoes and root veggies.
Even if you're eating foods that don't trigger a possible GERD attack, Krikhely suggests you eat smaller and more frequent meals instead of three larger ones, and to eat your last meal earlier, at least three hours before bedtime.
Is This an Emergency?
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Acid Reflux (GER & GERD) In Adults"
- Mayo Clinic: "Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "What Is GERD or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease"
- Kelly Krikhely, MS, RD, nutritionist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City
- International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders: "Diet Changes for GERD"
- Mount Sinai Hospital: "Meet Our Team"