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Diet to Help With an Esophageal Sphincter Problem

author image Jill Corleone, RDN, LD
Jill Corleone is a registered dietitian and health coach who has been writing and lecturing on diet and health for more than 15 years. Her work has been featured on the Huffington Post, Diabetes Self-Management and in the book "Noninvasive Mechanical Ventilation," edited by John R. Bach, M.D. Corleone holds a Bachelor of Science in nutrition.
Diet to Help With an Esophageal Sphincter Problem
A roasted chicken, vegetables, whole grain bread, fresh tomatoes and herbs on cutting boards. Photo Credit: ginew/iStock/Getty Images

The pain you feel in your chest after eating a high-fat meal may not be your heart telling you to eat better, but may be your lower esophageal sphincter losing pressure. Your esophagus has two sphincters, upper and lower. Depending on the affected sphincter, treatment may require a change in diet consistency, nutrient composition or food choices. Consult your doctor before making changes to your diet.

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Diet Consistency and Upper Sphincter

Problems with your upper sphincter usually involve severe contraction of the muscle, which results in difficulty swallowing. If you're having trouble swallowing, you may need to change the consistency of your foods to improve intake. Your doctor determines diet consistency, but it may include pureed, finely chopped or ground foods. The goal of the diet is to improve diet tolerance and nutritional intake.


Gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD, is a condition caused by a decrease in pressure of your lower esophageal sphincter, or LES, which is the band of muscles separating your stomach from your esophagus. When LES pressure is decreased, the muscles loosen, allowing the contents of your stomach to reflux up into your esophagus. While everyone experiences gastroesophageal reflux at one time or another, chronic exposure to stomach acid, which is GERD, damages the soft tissue of the esophagus. Food affects LES pressure. If you have GERD, you may need to make changes to your diet.

Low-Fat for LES

High-fat foods and fried foods decrease LES pressure, according to the McKinley Health Center. If you have GERD, your doctor will likely recommend that you follow a low-fat diet to improve symptoms. You can limit fat by eating foods that are baked, broiled or steamed without any added fat. Fill your diet with foods naturally low in fat such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains prepared without any added fat, nonfat dairy foods and lean sources of protein such as seafood, poultry and beans.

Chocolate and LES

Chocolate contains a substance called methylxanthine, which is a chemical that improves mood and concentration. This chemical also decreases LES pressure, increasing risk of reflux. The McKinley Health Center recommends if you have GERD that you avoid eating chocolate. Food tolerance differs from person to person. Limit or avoid chocolate if it exacerbates your reflux.

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