GERD Diet: Foods for Acid Reflux and What to Avoid

Discover the best foods for managing GERD and what to avoid to alleviate symptoms. Learn about the GERD diet, lifestyle changes, and how Signos can help improve health through expert advice.

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
May 20, 2024
April 17, 2024
— Updated:
April 17, 2024

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GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is a chronic condition where stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, causing symptoms like heartburn, chest pain, and regurgitation. For individuals with GERD, certain foods can trigger or worsen these symptoms. It's important to avoid these foods to manage GERD effectively and prevent discomfort. This article will discuss the foods to avoid and provide tips on how to minimize symptoms and improve the quality of life for those with GERD.

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What Is GERD?

GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is a chronic digestive disorder where stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, leading to irritation and inflammation. The lower esophageal sphincter, a ring of muscle that acts as a valve between the esophagus and the stomach, may weaken or relax abnormally, allowing stomach acid to escape into the esophagus. This phenomenon, known as acid reflux, is a common occurrence but becomes problematic when it happens frequently or causes complications.

The most common symptoms of GERD include heartburn, a burning sensation in the chest or throat; regurgitation, a sour or bitter-tasting acid backing up into the throat or mouth; and chest pain, often mistaken for a heart attack. Other symptoms can include difficulty swallowing, coughing, wheezing, and hoarseness. Treatment for GERD typically involves lifestyle changes, such as avoiding trigger foods, eating smaller meals, and elevating the head of the bed. Medications such as antacids, H2 receptor blockers, and proton pump inhibitors are also commonly prescribed to reduce acid production and relieve symptoms. In severe cases, surgery may be recommended to strengthen the lower esophageal sphincter or repair a hiatal hernia, a common underlying cause of GERD.

A GERD diet is one of the most effective approaches for managing symptoms and improving the quality of life for individuals with GERD. This diet focuses on avoiding foods and beverages that can trigger or worsen acid reflux. Common trigger foods include spicy items, fatty foods, fried foods, citrus fruits, tomatoes, onions, garlic, chocolate, caffeine, and alcohol.

Instead, a GERD-friendly diet emphasizes lean proteins, non-citrus fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. It also encourages eating smaller, more frequent meals and avoiding eating close to bedtime to reduce the risk of acid reflux. Additionally, lifestyle modifications such as maintaining a healthy weight and elevating the head of the bed can further help manage GERD symptoms.

By following a GERD diet and making appropriate lifestyle changes, individuals with GERD can effectively manage their symptoms and improve their overall quality of life. It's important to work closely with a healthcare provider or registered dietitian to develop a personalized GERD diet plan that meets individual needs and preferences.

What to Eat on a GERD Diet and What to Avoid

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Adopting a GERD diet can significantly alleviate symptoms and improve the quality of life for individuals with GERD. This diet focuses on avoiding foods and beverages that can trigger or exacerbate acid reflux while emphasizing those that are less likely to cause symptoms. By making strategic dietary choices, individuals can reduce the frequency and severity of GERD symptoms. Understanding what to eat and what to avoid is key to effectively managing GERD through diet.

Foods to Eat

  1. Whole Grains: Whole grains like oatmeal, brown rice, and whole wheat bread are high in fiber, which can help absorb stomach acid and improve digestion, reducing the risk of reflux.
  2. Lean Meat/Poultry: Lean meats and poultry provide protein without the high-fat content that can contribute to reflux.
  3. Starches: Starches such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, and whole grains can help absorb stomach acid and reduce symptoms. 
  4. Egg Whites: Egg whites are a lean source of protein that is less likely to trigger reflux compared to whole eggs. 
  5. Seafood: Seafood, especially fish like salmon, trout, and cod, is low in fat and can provide essential omega-3 fatty acids. These acids have anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce inflammation in the esophagus. 
  6. Healthy Fats: Healthy fats like olive oil, avocado, and nuts are less likely to relax the lower esophageal sphincter, the muscle that controls the opening between the esophagus and the stomach. This can help prevent reflux.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Also Read: </strong><a href="why-eggs-weight-loss">Why Eggs are Good for Weight Loss (Hint: Blood Sugar)</a>.</p>

Foods to Avoid

  1. Meat: High-fat meats, such as beef, pork, and lamb, can be difficult to digest and may increase the production of stomach acid, leading to acid reflux symptoms.
  2. Eggs: While eggs are a good source of protein, they can be high in fat, especially when fried or cooked with butter or oil. High-fat foods can relax the lower esophageal sphincter, allowing stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus.
  3. Tomatoes/Citrus Fruits: These are naturally acidic foods that can irritate the esophagus, exacerbating symptoms of acid reflux. Citrus fruits include oranges, grapefruit, limes, and lemons. Individuals may also want to avoid tomato products like tomato sauce and tomato paste.
  4. Oil/High-Fat Foods: Foods high in fat, such as oils, fried foods, and fatty cuts of meat, can relax the lower esophageal sphincter and delay stomach emptying, leading to increased acid reflux symptoms.
  5. Caffeine: Caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea, and soda can relax the lower esophageal sphincter and stimulate the production of stomach acid, making symptoms of GERD worse.
  6. Foods With a High Glycemic Index (GI): Foods with a high GI, such as white bread, rice, and sugary snacks, can cause spikes in blood sugar levels, which may trigger acid reflux symptoms.
  7. Chocolate: Chocolate contains caffeine and is high in fat, both of which can contribute to acid reflux symptoms. 
  8. Mint: While mint and peppermint can help soothe digestive issues for some people, it can relax the lower esophageal sphincter and worsen symptoms of GERD in others.
  9. Spicy Foods: Spices like chili powder, black pepper, garlic, and onions can irritate the esophagus and relax the lower esophageal sphincter, allowing stomach acid to reflux into the esophagus.

5 Lifestyle Changes That Can Help Manage GERD Symptoms

A bowl of chicken, lettuce, corn, and cabbage

Making lifestyle changes can be an effective way to manage symptoms of GERD  and improve quality of life. These changes focus on reducing factors that contribute to acid reflux, such as excess weight, overeating, and lying down after meals. By adopting healthier habits and avoiding triggers, individuals with GERD can reduce the frequency and severity of symptoms, leading to better overall digestive health. Understanding the lifestyle changes that can help manage GERD is an important step in effectively controlling the condition and preventing complications.

  • Maintain a Healthy Weight: Excess weight, especially around the abdomen, can put pressure on the stomach and lower esophageal sphincter, leading to acid reflux. Losing weight through diet and exercise can help reduce symptoms.
  • Eat Smaller, More Frequent Meals: Large meals can distend the stomach and increase the likelihood of acid reflux. Eating smaller, more frequent meals can help prevent this and keep symptoms at bay.
  • Avoid Trigger Foods: Certain foods and beverages, such as spicy foods, citrus fruits, and caffeinated drinks, can trigger or worsen acid reflux. Identifying and avoiding these triggers can help manage symptoms.
  • Don't Lie Down After Eating: Lying down shortly after eating can allow stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus. Wait at least two to three hours before lying down or going to bed to reduce the risk of acid reflux.
  • Elevate the Head of Your Bed: Raising the head of your bed by 6 to 8 inches can help prevent stomach acid from flowing back into the esophagus while you sleep. This can be achieved by using bed risers or placing a wedge-shaped pillow under your mattress.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn More: </strong><a href="start-living-a-healthy-lifestyle">How to Start Living a Healthy Lifestyle</a>.</p>

Learn More About How to Improve Blood Sugar Health With Signos’ Expert Advice

Choosing the right medication is crucial for improving health, managing diabetes, and controlling weight loss. Signos' experts provide valuable advice to help individuals make informed decisions about their medication choices. By understanding the benefits and potential side effects of different medications, Signos' experts can help individuals find the most effective treatment plan tailored to their specific needs. This personalized approach can lead to better health outcomes and improved quality of life.

Signos offers innovative ways to improve health, particularly in managing conditions like GERD. By monitoring glucose levels, Signos provides valuable insights into how dietary choices and lifestyle habits impact overall health. Their blog offers in-depth information on glucose levels and how they relate to various health conditions, including GERD. If you're curious about whether Signos is right for you, their quick quiz can help determine if their approach aligns with your health goals and needs. Explore Signos to discover how it can revolutionize your approach to health management.

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About the author

Kristen Carli is the owner of Camelback Nutrition & Wellness. She graduated from University of Arizona with a BA in psychology and then received a BS in dietetics from Arizona State University.

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