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GERD and Your Diet

GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) can cause repeated heartburn. Heartburn occurs when stomach acid backs up into the food pipe running from the mouth to the stomach (esophagus). When this acid reaches the esophagus, it causes a burning feeling. Diet changes often play a key role in helping manage GERD. You may be able to reduce heartburn by changing what, when, and how much you eat.

What is the GERD diet?

An eating plan for GERD involves passing up foods and drinks that trigger your symptoms or make them worse. But people with GERD vary in how they respond to different foods. Work with your healthcare provider to figure out which foods are heartburn triggers for you.

How can this diet help you?

Making changes in what you eat may prevent or reduce heartburn caused by GERD. These changes should be based your response to specific foods. Your provider or a dietitian can help customize an eating plan to fit your needs.

Does this diet have any risks?

To manage GERD, you may need to cut certain foods out of your diet. Some of these foods, such as oranges and tomatoes, would otherwise be good for you. To get all the nutrients you need, eat a variety of healthy foods that don’t make your symptoms worse.

Which foods should you eat?

Your diet should contain plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Also include healthy protein foods such as lean meats, skinless poultry, fish, and beans. And include low-fat dairy products such as low-fat or fat-free milk and yogurt.

Which foods should you pass up?

Skip foods, drinks, and ingredients that give you heartburn. Foods that make many people’s GERD symptoms flare up include:

  • Acidic foods, such as oranges, grapefruit, tomatoes, and tomato products

  • Spicy foods, such as chili peppers, hot sauce, and salsa

  • High-fat foods, such as fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, and fried foods

  • Other potential problem foods, such as chocolate, peppermint, onion, vinegar, and garlic

  • Caffeine, found in drinks such as coffee, colas, and energy drinks

  • Alcohol, found in drinks such as beer, wine, and hard liquor

  • Carbonated (fizzy) drinks, such as sodas and sparkling water

Foods may play a role in GERD and heartburn in several ways.

Acidic and spicy foods can irritate the lining of the esophagus.

Many of these foods can also relax a ring of muscle at the lower end of the esophagus. This muscle normally keeps stomach acid from flowing backward into the esophagus. But when it relaxes too much, it may not work as it should.

High-fat foods and alcohol can slow down the movement of food through the stomach. This increases the risk for heartburn.

Carbonated drinks have bubbles that expand inside the stomach. This causes pressure that can push stomach acid into the esophagus.

Keep in mind that having GERD doesn’t mean you have to skip all your favorite foods. Often, making just a few selective changes can have a big impact. In some cases, you may be able to limit a food rather than cutting it out completely.

Tips for following this diet

Your provider may suggest that you keep a food diary. Write down everything you eat and drink. Also note when you ate and how you felt afterward. Then share the diary with your provider and look for patterns. This helps you find out which foods and drinks are problems for you. Avoiding or reducing them may help you feel better.

How and when you eat can also make a big difference:

  • Don't eat a lot at once. Instead, eat smaller meals more often throughout the day.

  • Don’t gulp down your food too quickly. Instead, slow down and really enjoy your meal.

  • Sit up straight during and after eating. Or take a walk after your meal. This helps keep the contents of your stomach flowing in the right direction.

  • Chew gum after a meal. This increases saliva and helps wash away acid from the esophagus. Just pick a flavor other than peppermint or spearmint.

  • Stop eating 3 hours before going to bed. This reduces the amount of acid in your stomach, so there’s less chance of heartburn.

  • Don't wear tight-fitting clothing or belts around your waist and stomach. This can put extra pressure on your stomach and increase the risk for heartburn.

Suggestions for planning meals

  • For breakfast, instead of orange juice and coffee, have low-fat milk and herbal tea.

  • For lunch, instead of a hamburger, have a grilled chicken wrap.

  • For dinner, instead of fried fish, have the fish baked or grilled.

  • For a side dish, instead of French fries, have a mixed veggie salad (but hold the tomatoes).

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