Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is a common condition where stomach acid or bile flows back up into your esophagus. This causes symptoms like heartburn, chest pain, regurgitation, nausea, sore throat, and a bitter or sour taste in your mouth.
While acid reflux can be uncomfortable and disrupt your sleep and daily life, dietary changes can help manage your symptoms. Certain foods can trigger or worsen acid reflux, while others can provide relief. Understanding what foods to limit and include in your diet is key to controlling your acid reflux.
What causes acid reflux?
Acid reflux occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) muscle at the top of your stomach doesn’t close properly after eating. This allows acidic stomach contents to rise up into the esophagus. Possible causes include:
- A weak or damaged LES
- Increased pressure on the abdomen from being overweight or obese
- Foods that relax or irritate the LES
- Hiatal hernia
- Some medications
Lifestyle factors like diet, exercise, alcohol use, and sleep position can also influence acid reflux.
What foods should you avoid with acid reflux?
Certain foods and drinks are more likely to cause or aggravate acid reflux symptoms. Foods to avoid include:
- Fried foods – High-fat fried foods relax the LES and delay stomach emptying, increasing reflux.
- Citrus fruits – Citric acid can irritate the esophageal lining. Grapefruit, oranges, lemons, limes, and pineapples are common culprits.
- Tomatoes – Tomatoes and tomato-based products like ketchup contain acidic tomatoes and tomato juice that can trigger reflux.
- Onions – Raw onions contain high amounts of fructans, fermentable fibers that can worsen reflux.
- Garlic – Like onions, garlic contains fructans and compounds that may irritate the digestive tract.
- Chocolate – Cocoa and chocolate contain caffeine and theobromine that relax the LES muscle.
- Caffeine – Found in coffee, tea, soda, and energy drinks, caffeine can relax the LES and stimulate acid production.
- Alcohol – Alcohol increases stomach acid production and relaxes the LES.
- Peppermint – Peppermint relaxes the LES and may trigger heartburn symptoms.
- Spicy foods – Chili peppers and other fiery spices can irritate the esophageal lining.
What foods can help with acid reflux?
While some foods make reflux worse, others can ease symptoms and prevent flare-ups. Beneficial foods and drinks include:
- Non-citrus fruits – Bananas, melons, apples, and pears are less acidic and less likely to cause reflux.
- Oatmeal – The high fiber content can help absorb excess stomach acid and reduce reflux.
- Ginger – Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties that may help soothe an irritated esophagus.
- Leafy greens – Greens like kale, spinach, and broccoli are high in vitamins and minerals that can help reduce inflammation.
- Fatty fish – Omega-3 fatty acids in salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines fight inflammation.
- Lean poultry and meats – Skinless chicken and turkey, lean cuts of beef and pork are healthy protein options.
- Nonfat or lowfat dairy – Milk, yogurt and cheese are good sources of protein and calcium, but opt for lowfat versions.
- Heart-healthy oils – Use olive, canola or avocado oils for cooking instead of lard or butter.
- Herbal tea – Try chamomile, licorice or marshmallow root tea to help reduce reflux symptoms.
- Low-acid foods – Favor low-acid foods like beans, eggs, peas, carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, and broccoli.
What should you drink if you have acid reflux?
Beverage choices can help or hinder acid reflux. Some helpful tips:
- Drink plain water, ideally alkaline water, to help dilute stomach acid and improve symptoms.
- Avoid or limit alcohol, coffee, tea, soda and other caffeinated or carbonated drinks which can relax the LES.
- Drink herbal tea or decaf tea in moderation as some varieties contain low acid.
- Stay hydrated and avoid excessive water intake right before bed to reduce nighttime heartburn.
- Drink beverages slowly, avoiding large amounts at once, and don’t drink too close to meals.
- Consume drinks at room temperature as very hot or cold liquids can trigger reflux.
- Try thick liquids like smoothies and shakes as they move more slowly through the digestive tract.
- Non-dairy milk like almond, coconut, oat or soy milk may be tolerated better than regular milk by some people.
What are good snacks for acid reflux sufferers?
Snacking between meals can help prevent overeating and acid reflux flares. Some healthy, low-acid snack ideas include:
- Fresh fruits like bananas, cantaloupe, honeydew, apples
- Sliced avocado sprinkled with salt and pepper
- Cookies made with oatmeal or oat flour
- Rice cakes or air popped popcorn
- Seed crackers or pretzel crisps
- Roasted chickpeas or unsalted nuts like almonds, walnuts, cashews
- Baby carrots with hummus
- Greek yogurt with fresh berries
What foods should you avoid eating late at night?
Eating late at night within 2-3 hours of bedtime can increase acid reflux symptoms. Avoid these trigger foods before bed:
- Spicy foods – chili, tacos, curry
- Tomato-based foods – pasta sauce, pizza
- Citrus fruits or juices
- Fatty, fried dishes
- Garlic and onions
- Peppermint tea or candies
- Coffee and caffeinated drinks
- Large meals – eat a light dinner
- Carbonated beverages
Also avoid lying down right after eating and prop up your head while sleeping to keep acid down.
Sample 3-day GERD diet meal plan
Here is a 3-day sample meal plan with recommended foods to eat and avoid for managing acid reflux:
- 1/2 cup oatmeal made with almond milk and cinnamon
- Sliced banana
- Poached or scrambled eggs
- Decaf herbal tea
- Turkey sandwich on whole wheat with lettuce, tomato, avocado
- Baby carrots
- Greek yogurt
- Grilled salmon
- Quinoa pilaf
- Steamed broccoli
- Sliced pears
- Chamomile tea
- Peanut butter banana smoothie (with almond milk, banana, peanut butter)
- Hard boiled egg
- Tuna salad sandwich on sprouted grain bread with lettuce, tomato
- Baby carrots and hummus
- Apple slices
- Sparkling water
- Chicken stir fry with broccoli, carrots, bell peppers, ginger
- Brown rice
- Sliced mango
- Ginger tea
- Omelet with spinach, mushrooms, onions, feta cheese
- Sliced melon
- Decaf coffee
- Lean turkey burger on a gluten-free bun with lettuce, tomato
- Baked sweet potato fries
- Sparkling water
- Grilled chicken
- Quinoa salad with cucumbers, bell peppers, parsley
- Steamed green beans
- Frozen yogurt with strawberries
- Herbal tea
Tips for preventing acid reflux flares
In addition to diet, other lifestyle changes can help control acid reflux. Useful tips include:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Avoid tight clothing and belts
- Stop smoking and limit alcohol
- Don’t eat 2-3 hours before bed
- Elevate your head while sleeping
- Avoid lying down after meals
- Manage stress levels
- Take over-the-counter or prescription medications as recommended by your doctor
Common acid reflux medication side effects
Medications like antacids, H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors can relieve acid reflux symptoms but may cause side effects including:
- Stomach pain
- Muscle cramps
PPIs used long-term are associated with increased risk of bone fractures, vitamin B12 deficiency, low magnesium levels, and cognitive impairment.
Talk to your doctor if you experience severe or concerning side effects when using acid reflux medications.
When to see a doctor
See your doctor if you have frequent or severe acid reflux symptoms. You should also consult your doctor if:
- You experience acid reflux symptoms more than twice per week
- Symptoms don’t improve with over-the-counter medication
- You have difficulty swallowing
- You have persistent nausea or vomiting
- You have unexplained weight loss
- You cough up blood or have black/tarry stools
Testing for GERD may include an upper endoscopy, esophageal manometry, esophageal pH monitoring, or barium swallow x-ray. Treatment options include prescription strength medication, surgery or natural remedies.
Acid reflux can significantly impact your quality of life, but dietary and lifestyle changes can help control your symptoms. Avoiding trigger foods, managing portion sizes, staying upright after eating, and taking medications as needed can all keep acid reflux at bay.
Eating a gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) friendly diet with lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean protein can provide relief. Drinking plenty of water while limiting caffeine, alcohol and acidic beverages is also beneficial.
While giving up problem foods may seem challenging at first, you have many delicious and nutritious options to keep your meals varied and enjoyable. With a little trial and error, you can pinpoint the best foods for your acid reflux diet.