A hiatal hernia can make mealtimes miserable. Hiatal hernia occurs when a small part of your stomach slides up into your chest through a weak spot, or hiatus, in your diaphragm. A symptomatic hiatal hernia regurgitates stomach acid back into your esophagus, causing the heartburn, difficulty swallowing and chest pain associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. To manage a hiatal hernia, Cleveland Clinic advises you to maintain a healthy weight, stop smoking, eat small meals at least three hours to four hours before lying down and avoid fatty and acidic foods. Consult your doctor for advice and fill your plate with healthy foods to help alleviate symptoms.
Favor lean meats and avoid fatty meats if you have a hiatal hernia. Meats with a high fat content, including many red meats and cold cuts, can aggravate the condition. Choose lean protein sources, such as skinless chicken breasts, mackerel and cod. If you like hamburgers and meatloaf, substitute ground turkey for ground beef. Beans are a healthy nonmeat source of protein, as are tofu and other soy products as long as you don't have a soy allergy. Bake your meats and fish instead of frying them, and avoid extremely spicy seasonings and marinades.
Vegetables and Fruits
Vegetables are a great choice for side dishes and snacks as most won't aggravate a hiatal hernia. Dark leafy greens, such as broccoli and spinach, provide plenty of calcium and vitamin B, while red bell peppers and carrots are great sources of antioxidants. Other vegetables you can enjoy include kale, sweet potatoes, squash and string beans. Fruits containing antioxidants may help reduce or prevent symptoms from occurring, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Healthy fruits include apricots, cherries, raspberries, blueberries and cantaloupe. Avoid acidic and citrus fruits, such as tomatoes, grapefruit and oranges, because they can aggravate your heartburn.
Grains, Oils and Dairy
Choose whole grains over refined starches to add fiber to your diet. Brown rice, steel-cut oatmeal, quinoa, whole-grain pasta and rye bread are smart whole-grain fiber choices. Avoid processed foods containing refined starches and sugar, such as commercially packaged cookies, cakes, crackers and white bread. Refined starches are also loaded with trans fatty acids; choose healthy fats, such as olive oil and safflower oil, instead. Keep your dairy choices low-fat because high-fat products may aggravate your hiatal hernia. Choose low-fat and no-fat milk, cottage cheese, sour cream and yogurt to add dairy to your diet.
Water is the best beverage choice if you have a hiatal hernia. Avoid fruit juices, coffee and caffeinated beverages because they may cause hiatal hernia symptoms to appear. Alcohol and carbonated sodas may also cause problems. Herbal teas are fine, but stay away from peppermint tea because it may cause heartburn.
Most hiatal hernias aren't problematic, but if you do experience symptoms, consult your physician. Medications, by prescription and over-the-counter, can alleviate the symptoms of hiatal hernia, but take them only under your doctor's supervision. Speak to your health care provider or dietitian before making any changes to your diet if you are pregnant or have a serious medical condition, such as diabetes or heart disease.
Is This an Emergency?
- MedlinePlus: Hiatal Hernia
- Cleveland Clinic: Hiatal Hernia
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
- National Digestive Disease Information Clearinghouse: Gastroesophageal Reflux and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
- Cleveland Clinic: Anti-oxidants
- Whole Grains Council: Whole Grains A to Z