Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition in which the contents of the stomach regularly move up through the digestive tract. GERD symptoms can be improved by including certain foods in your diet and avoiding others. This regurgitation is usually long lasting and can lead to uncomfortable symptoms, including heartburn and pain in the upper abdomen. The severity of the condition is often related to diet and lifestyle.
GERD affects about 20% of adults in the West. Avoiding trigger foods and following other dietary advice can relieve symptoms of GERD. This article explores the foods that people with GERD may want to exclude from their diets. It also discusses what foods to include.
Foods to eat
While there are no specific foods that can cure GERD, some may actively improve symptoms. Until recently, researchers did not fully understand GERD, and there was no scientific evidence to suggest that a change in diet could improve symptoms. However, an older 2013 study of more than 500 people found that certain foods, such as those high in fiber, may help reduce symptoms of GERD. Likewise, a 2016 study found that following the Mediterranean diet, which is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and unsaturated fats, may help ease symptoms of GERD.
Foods to eat to help relieve GERD
Vegetables are low in fat and sugar. They are also a good source of fiber, a beneficial carbohydrate. Some suitable options include:
Consuming fruits other than citrus fruits is less likely to trigger symptoms of GERD. Fruits are also a good source of vitamin C, fiber, magnesium, and potassium.
The options include:
Eat lean protein from low cholesterol sources, such as:
And while egg whites are also a good option, egg yolks are high in fat, which can trigger GERD symptoms.
Also, when cooking protein, try using methods like broiling, baking, or poaching, rather than deep frying.
A general rule of thumb for GERD is to avoid or reduce saturated fats from meat and dairy products and trans fats from processed foods and replace them with foods containing healthy fats. These include:
nuts and seeds
Whole grains are a good source of fiber. Research links high fiber diets to reduced risk of reflux symptoms. Here are some foods made from whole grains:
Foods to avoid with GERD
Certain foods can trigger the symptoms of GERD. Because GERD is a digestive disorder, diet can often influence the symptoms of this condition. With this in mind, making diet and lifestyle changes can help treat many cases of GERD. Research from 2019 found a link between reflux esophagitis, which refers to inflammation typically caused by GERD, and high consumption of specific foods.
Foods that may make symptoms of GERD or reflux esophagitis worse include:
– meat, which tends to be high in cholesterol and fatty acids
– oils and foods high in fat, which can cause the stomach sphincter to relax
– high amounts of salt
– foods rich in calcium, such as milk and cheese, which are sources of saturated fat.
A 2021 review looked at the relationship between cow’s milk allergy and symptoms of GERD in children. Researchers found that children with allergy often had symptoms of GERD after consuming cow’s milk. Current research aims to determine if this phenomenon also applies to adults. People who regularly experience discomfort or bloating after consuming dairy products containing cow’s milk may find that eliminating them from their diet reduces these symptoms.
Other foods that trigger reflux
Other foods are often the cause of GERD flare-ups. Doctors often recommend that people with this condition avoid them. These include:
– fizzy drinks
– acidic drinks, such as orange juice and coffee
– acidic foods, including tomato sauce
Although there is little clinical evidence linking these foods to symptoms of GERD, anecdotal experiences from some people with the disease suggest that these foods may make symptoms worse. However, the trigger foods can vary from person to person. Therefore, people with GERD should try eliminating each type of food from their diet to see if their symptoms improve. If these foods don’t make symptoms worse, they can get them back into their diet.
Beneficial diet for GERD
Experts recommend following a Mediterranean diet or a similar diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to reduce symptoms of GERD. Here are some examples of meal ideas:
– poached eggs on toast made with whole grains
– avocado on toast made with whole grains
– green salad mixed with wholemeal bread and hummus
– brown rice with steamed vegetables and salmon
– wholemeal bread sandwich with tuna and grilled vegetables
– whole grain pizza with tomato sauce, vegetables and low fat cheese
– baked chicken with whole grain pasta, tomato sauce and grilled vegetables
– grilled vegetable skewers with hummus dip and salad
What is GERD?
When a person swallows, food travels down the digestive tract to the stomach. A ring of muscle tissue called the lower esophageal sphincter contracts after allowing food to pass through the stomach. This prevents food from moving up the digestive tract. If the esophageal sphincter does not close properly, stomach contents can move up into the digestive tract, causing GERD. If the symptoms of GERD appear more than twice a week for a period longer than three weeks, doctors will classify the condition as chronic.
People sometimes refer to GERD when talking about acid reflux or heartburn, but these are symptoms of the disease rather than separate conditions. Left untreated, GERD can lead to serious health problems, such as Barrett’s esophagus. In this disease, abnormalities develop in the cells that line the food tube. In some cases, this can lead to cancer.
Symptoms of GERD
The main symptom of GERD is heartburn, a painful sensation that can range from a burning sensation in the chest to a feeling of food stuck in the throat. It is also relatively common to experience nausea after eating.
Some less common symptoms of GERD include:
– wheezing or a weak cough
– a sore throat
– voice modification, including hoarseness
– regurgitation of food
Lying down immediately after eating may make symptoms worse. People sometimes find that their symptoms get worse overnight as well. In this case, they can often be relieved by elevating their head while sleeping and avoiding eating for at least two hours before going to bed.
Holistic Diet Strategies for GERD
A comprehensive treatment plan for GERD should take into account other factors besides basic dietary changes. For many people with digestive problems, it can be beneficial to restore the balance of bacterial flora in the intestines. Consuming fermented foods and prebiotics can also help. The bacteria in these foods are called probiotics and can reduce digestive upset by balancing the digestive system as a whole. Prebiotics are high fiber foods that selectively promote the growth of beneficial bacteria.
Foods with natural probiotics include:
the kimchi cru
raw pickles and fermented vegetables
kombucha, a drink made from fermented tea.
Foods rich in prebiotics include:
chicory root fibers
People with GERD may find that probiotic and prebiotic foods can reduce symptoms. Probiotics help fight a strain of bacteria called Helicobacter pylori, which some scientists believe may be linked to GERD. However, more research is needed to confirm this.
Natural remedies that can help
Other natural treatments that can help with GERD symptoms include licorice and ginger which can reduce symptoms, ease nausea, and improve gastric emptying.
Also, maintaining a moderate weight and keeping your head up while sleeping can minimize symptoms of GERD.
Although people generally think of GERD as a chronic disorder, it doesn’t have to be permanent. Changes in diet, lifestyle, and integrative treatments can help, along with medication. If these approaches are ineffective, surgery may be an option to strengthen the lower esophageal sphincter. Proper treatment should prevent GERD from affecting a person’s quality of life. However, it is essential to always consult a doctor before changing a treatment plan.
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