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GERD and Diet: Foods to Prevent Acid Reflux

foods to prevent acid reflux

GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) is a disorder in which the stomach contents backflow into the esophagus. This can cause complications or alarming symptoms such as heartburn. One reason this occurs is that it affects the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES usually closes to avoid food going up into the esophagus. However, the foods you consume influence how much acid your stomach generates. Therefore, eating the right kinds of food is essential in managing acid reflux or GERD. In this article, we will discuss some foods to prevent acid reflux or GERD symptoms.

Foods to Prevent Acid Reflux

Symptoms of reflux arise from stomach acid that reaches the esophagus and causes discomfort and pain. If you have too much acid, you can add these foods into your diet to prevent the acid reflux symptoms.

Researchers had not fully understood GERD, and there was a lack of scientific evidence to show that changing the diet could improve symptoms. However, a study of over 500 people in 2013 found that certain foods may decrease the frequency of GERD symptoms (1).

None of these foods can cure the disease. However, your decision to use these foods will focus on your own experience.

Ginger

Ginger has strong anti-inflammatory properties, and it is commonly used as heartburn remedy. To relieve symptoms, you can add grated or sliced ginger root to meals, smoothies, or you can drink ginger tea.

Vegetables

Vegetables are naturally low in fat and sugar, and it can help reduce acidity in the stomach. Green beans, broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, leafy greens, potatoes, and cucumbers are all healthy choices.

Non-citrus Fruits

Non-citrus fruits are less likely to cause reflux symptoms.

Good Fats

Good fat sources include avocado, walnut, flaxseed, olive oil, sesame oil and sunflower oil. Reduce and substitute your consumption of saturated fats and trans fats with such healthy unsaturated fats.

Egg Whites

Egg white is an excellent choice. However, stay away from egg yolks, which can cause symptoms of reflux.

Lean Poultry and Seafood

Lean Poultry such as chicken, shrimp, and seafood are low in fat and can ease acid reflux symptoms.

Oatmeal

Oatmeal is a favorite snack, a whole grain, and an excellent fiber source. A high fiber diet has been associated with the lower risk of acid reflux. Research also shows that high-fiber food, particularly soluble fibre, can help reduce GERD symptoms (2).

Symptoms

Heartburn is a common manifestation of reflux and GERD. You may experience a burning sensation in your stomach or chest following consuming a full meal or any food. GERD may also cause the esophagus to vomit or regurgitate when an acid passes in.

Symptoms include:

Many people with GERD find their symptoms caused by certain diets. However, diet can avoid all GERD symptoms, and the effects vary from person to person. Therefore, keep a food diary to recognise the particular causes and monitor accordingly.

For example:

  • what foods you eat
  • what time you eat
  • the symptoms you experience

If your diet varies, it’s helpful to track your food record for longer periods. The diary can identify specific foods and beverages that affect your GERD. However, the goal is to minimize the symptoms and monitor them. Use this guide with your eating record and your doctor’s recommendations.

Foods to Avoid

Some foods can cause GERD symptoms. GERD is a digestive disorder, and diet will often affect the condition’s symptoms. Changes in diet and lifestyle will go a long way towards the treatment of many GERD cases.

Although doctors are arguing about which foods directly cause reflux symptoms, they have shown it that some foods cause problems for others. You may start by removing the following foods from your diet to manage your symptoms.

A study found the connection between reflux esophagitis, usually caused by inflammation, and a high intake of specific foods (3).

Foods which could exacerbate the symptoms of GERD or reflux esophagitis include:

Milk

A study examined the relationship between the symptoms of cow milk allergy and GERD in infants. The researchers found that children with cow milk allergy frequently experienced GERD symptoms after drinking cow’s milk (4).

Continuing research is investigating whether this happens to adults, too. People who experience pain or bloating frequently after eating dairy products that contain cow’s milk may find that removing it from the diet will minimize symptoms.

High-fat Foods

Fried and fatty foods will calm the LES, allowing for more stomach acid back into the esophagus. Such foods also slow the emptying of the stomach. Eating high-fat foods puts you at greater risk of reflux symptoms, so reducing your daily total intake of fat can help. Thus, limit the foods high in fat content or consume sparingly.

Example of high-fat foods:

  • fatty meat
  • cream sauces
  • gravies
  • desserts
  • chocolate
  • snacks
  • potato chips
  • lard
  • butter
  • regular cheese
  • sour cream
  • creamy salad dressings
  • oily and greasy foods

A research investigated the Cholesterol-GERD relationship. The findings showed that it was more likely to develop GERD symptoms for people who ingested more cholesterol and saturated fatty acids and a higher proportion of fat calories (5).

Fruits, Vegetables, and Drinks

In a balanced diet the fruits and vegetables are essential. But certain fruits, particularly highly acidic drinks, may cause or worsen GERD symptoms. If you have severe acid reflux, the following foodstuffs should be decreased or eliminated.

Additional foods and drinks usually cause GERD and are often advised by physicians to avoid:

  • garlic
  • onions
  • spicy foods
  • mint
  • grapefruit
  • lemons
  • limes
  • pineapple
  • salsa
  • acidic drinks
  • coffee
  • caffeine
  • orange juice or oranges
  • carbonated beverages
  • tomato sauce or tomatoes

There is little clinical evidence that these foods are related to GERD symptoms, but some people’s anecdotal experience shows that these foods are strongly related to GERD symptoms.

Spicy foods like onions and garlic cause symptoms of heartburn in many people. These foods donnot cause reflux. But if you eat a lot of garlic or onions, make sure that you carefully record meals in your diary. Some of these foods may bother you more than other foods, along with spicy foods.

However, foods that cause symptoms can vary from person to person. People with GERD should try to eliminate any food from their diet to see if their symptoms are getting better. They will add the food back into their diet, if they don’t.

Treatment

GERD symptoms are strongly curative. People are permitted to buy over-the-counter (OTC) drugs to treat GERD. These involve antacids that neutralize the stomach acid, such as Gaviscon. People can also buy H2-receptor blockers, which can minimize stomach acid production for up to 12 hours. The effect of the OTC proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) is similar.

Drugs on prescription can include stronger antacids, or drugs that block the acids. The drugs reduce the amount of stomach acid, although this acid is important. This acid is responsible for most of vitamin B-12 absorption from the food during digestion, so regular use of antacids, PPIs, or H2 receptor inhibitors can cause vitamin B-12 deficiency (6).

Baclofen is a drug that can help control symptoms by decreasing the lower oesophageal sphincter relaxation. Baclofen, however, can cause side effects, including fatigue and confusion.

Changing Lifestyle

You can prevent symptoms with improvements in lifestyle, besides managing reflux symptoms with diet and nutrition. Try out those tips:

  • take antacids
  • avoid alcohol
  • stop smoking
  • don’t overeat
  • eat slowly
  • don’t sleep after eating
  • avoid tight clothing
  • maintain a healthy weight

Some natural remedies may also ease the symptoms of GERD.

Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice (DGL)

Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice (DGL) has been shown to encourage mucus production according to a study carried out in 2014. This extra mucus in the stomach and oesophagus will act as a barrier to the acid. Thus, this barrier will repair the damaged tissue and prevent acid reflux from happening (7).

Slippery Elm Bark

Slippery elm can be effective in treating acid reflux. Therefore, it is called a GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) herbal remedy.

Probiotics

While probiotics are used for treating many gastrointestinal disorders. However, we require further research to determine whether it is influencing symptoms of acid reflux.

Related: Reflux In Children: Symptoms, And Treatment

The Bottom Line

People with GERD can normally control their symptoms with changes in their lifestyle and over-the-counter medication. Speak to the doctor if the lifestyle changes don’t improve the symptoms. However, your doctor can prescribe medicine, or in extreme cases, surgery.

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Naeem Durrani BSc
Naeem Durrani is a freelance journalist who specializes in health and wellness innovation. His interests include medical research, nutrition, and the scientific evidence around effective wellness practices that empower people to positively transform their lives.
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