The Best and Worst Foods for GERD
What Is GERD/Acid Reflux?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when your stomach contents flow back up into your esophagus, throat and mouth. This acidic backwash, known as acid reflux, can cause a burning sensation in your esophagus and throat, and a sour taste in your mouth.
When you swallow, a sphincter at the bottom of your esophagus opens to allow foods and liquids to flow into your stomach. GERD happens when this sphincter relaxes or weakens abnormally when you are not swallowing foods. Over time, GERD can cause the lining of your esophagus to become irritated and inflamed due to the constant backwash of acid that flows back into the throat.
Everyone experiences acid reflux and heartburn from time to time, but if you experience acid reflux more than two times per week over several weeks, it’s possible you may have GERD. Regular use of antacids or heartburn medications can also lead to the development of GERD.
When not treated, GERD can increase your risk for serious health problems including cancer. Though some symptoms of GERD may be treated with over-the-counter drugs and prescription medications, seeing your healthcare provider is critical to ensuring it is properly treated.
Other Causes of GERD
Overeating, eating heavy, large-portioned meals and eating too close to bedtime are common triggers of heartburn and GERD. Non-food related causes of GERD include:
- Medications, including those for allergies, asthma and high blood pressure, and certain painkillers, sedatives and antidepressants
- Obesity due to increased pressure on the abdomen
- Pregnancy due to increased pressure on the abdomen
- A hiatal hernia, which is when the upper part of the stomach pushes up into the diaphragm
- Sleeping flat on your back, which allows stomach acid to easily flow back up into your esophagus
- Smoking or being exposed to secondhand smoke
Digestive Anatomy and GERD
Your stomach contains gastric juice composed of digestive enzymes, hydrochloric acid and other substances that help your body absorb nutrients. Hydrochloric acid breaks down food, and digestive enzymes break up proteins. The acidic gastric juice also kills harmful bacteria that may be present in your food or drink. Mucus covers your stomach wall with a protective coating that works with bicarbonate to protect the stomach wall itself from the hydrochloric acid.
The esophagus is the tube that runs from your throat to your stomach. When GERD occurs, the valve at the end of your esophagus called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) does not close tightly as it should, or stays relaxed after food enters your stomach. This can often be caused by certain foods in your diet.
Foods Most Likely to Trigger GERD
There is no dedicated diet for GERD or acid reflux that can prevent these problems from happening entirely. However, certain foods can increase your risk for heartburn. These foods are known to cause a delay in the digestive process, and they typically sit in the stomach for a longer time.
The worst foods for GERD are foods that are spicy and high in fat and salt content. Certain drinks may also trigger heartburn. GERD foods to avoid include:
- Carbonated beverages
- Chili powder and pepper (white, black, cayenne)
- Citrus fruits, like grapefruit, lemons and limes
- Citrus drinks, like orange juice
- Creamy sauces, salad dressings and gravies
- Fast food
- Fatty meats such as bacon, sausage and pepperoni
- Fatty cuts of beef, pork or lamb
- Fried foods, like french fries, chicken wings and onion rings
- Full-fat dairy products, like butter, sour cream and ice cream
- Gum that contains peppermint or spearmint
- Oily and greasy foods
- Potato chips and other processed snacks
- Tomato-based sauces
- Whey protein
Foods That Can Calm Stomach Acid
Many foods can prevent acid reflux, and can also help it go away. Foods to eat with GERD include those that have a low pH, and those that are high in fiber and water content.
Foods with a low pH, also known as alkaline foods, are generally less acidic and promote good digestion. High-fiber foods are also great for digestion and can help you feel full sooner to prevent you from overeating. Foods that are high in water content can dilute and neutralize your stomach acid to prevent acid reflux, and promote good blood flow and digestion to reduce your GERD symptoms.
The best foods for GERD and foods that neutralize stomach acid include:
- Broth-based soups (not tomato)
- Chicken breasts
- Egg whites
- Fatty fish, like tuna, mackerel and sardines
- Green vegetables, such as lettuce, asparagus, cucumber, broccoli and green beans
- Healthy fats, like walnuts, avocados and olive oil
- Herbal teas (non-caffeinated)
- Lean meats
- Low-fat yogurt
- Melons, especially watermelon
- Root vegetables, such as ginger, carrots, beets and sweet potatoes
- Whole grains, such as oatmeal, quinoa, barley, whole wheat products and brown rice
The Importance of Keeping a Food Diary
The foods, spices and beverages that trigger heartburn are different for everyone. Keeping a food diary can help you identify foods that trigger your symptoms, and foods that improve your symptoms or that don’t cause them at all. This information can also help your doctor determine the cause of your GERD and work with you to improve your diet.
Write down all the foods and drinks you consume, and the times at which you’re consuming them. In addition to helping you determine what to eat with GERD, a food diary can give you a better idea of how to improve your diet if you’re trying to lose excess weight.
Surgical Treatment for GERD
Make an appointment to see your doctor if you are still experiencing persistent symptoms of acid reflux despite changing your diet. Your doctor can perform an exam and diagnostic tests to identify the underlying cause of GERD and discuss your available treatment options.
Advanced Laparoscopic Associates offers surgical options for the treatment of GERD.
The LINX is a quarter-sized ring of magnetic titanium beads that wraps around the esophagus and reinforces the LES. It is implanted laparoscopically and produces a short hospital stay and low rate of complications. Most importantly, its short recovery time means an almost immediate improvement in symptoms and a very brief interruption of your daily life.
Fundoplication helps strengthen your LES. During this procedure, your surgeon wraps the top part of the stomach—called the fundus—around the bottom of the esophagus and sutures it in place. This reinforces the LES and prevents stomach acid from flowing back into the esophagus. Most fundoplication procedures are performed laparoscopically with small incisions, small tools and a flexible camera called a laparoscope attached to a video monitor. This surgical procedure is associated with a brief hospital stay and recovery time.
Request an appointment with one of our surgeons at Advanced Laparoscopic Associates today if you are still experiencing symptoms GERD. Our specialists will help you develop a GERD diet plan, discuss available GERD treatment options and find a solution that’s right for you.