What to know about acid reflux and GERD
Do you feel a painful burning sensation in your esophagus, stomach or chest after eating a full meal or certain foods? Are you popping antacids more often than not or taking medicine for immediate heartburn relief? If so, you may have acid reflux, which happens when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus.
In a normal situation, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) closes to prevent food in the stomach from moving up into the esophagus. But when the LES is damaged or weakened, the result is acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a severe, chronic form of acid reflux.
In addition to heartburn, other symptoms of acid reflux and GERD include a dry cough, sore throat, bloating, burping or hiccups, difficulty in swallowing, a lump in the throat, vomiting or regurgitation.
The amount of acid your stomach produces is impacted by the foods you eat. No single diet can prevent all symptoms of GERD. However, acid reflux can be controlled by eating the right kinds of food. Additionally, certain foods may ease symptoms in some people.
Research shows that increasing your intake of fiber, specifically in the form of fruits and vegetables, may help control GERD. Fiber also reduces the risk of high cholesterol, uncontrolled blood sugar, hemorrhoids and other bowel problems.
The following foods may help reduce your acid reflux symptoms:
- Vegetables such as green beans, broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, leafy greens, potatoes and cucumbers are not only low in fat and sugar; they also help reduce stomach acid.
- Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties and is a natural treatment for heartburn and other gastrointestinal problems. You can add grated or sliced ginger root to recipes or drink ginger tea to ease symptoms.
- Oatmeal is a whole grain and a great source of fiber. Oatmeal can absorb stomach acid and so can whole-grain breads and whole-grain rice.
- Non-citrus fruits such as melons, bananas, apples, and pears are not as likely to trigger reflux symptoms as acidic fruits.
- Lean meats, including chicken, turkey, fish and seafood, are low fat and can also reduce acid reflux symptoms.
- Egg whites are great for reducing acid reflux; but make sure to skip the yolks.
- Healthy, unsaturated fats found in avocados, walnuts, flaxseed, olive oil, sesame oil, and sunflower oil, are better choices than saturated and trans fats.
Foods to avoid if you are prone to acid reflux
Food triggers are different for every person, but certain foods are known to cause problems for a lot of people. To identify specific “trigger” foods, keep a food diary for at least a week to track the foods you eat, what time of day you eat and what symptoms you experience. You might start by eliminating or reducing these common problem foods from your diet:
- High-fat foods
- Fried and fatty foods such as French fries, potato chips and onion rings
- Full-fat dairy products including butter, whole milk, regular cheese and sour cream
- Fatty or fried cuts of beef, pork, or lamb
- Bacon and ham fat
- Desserts, such as ice cream
- Cream sauces, gravies, and creamy salad dressings
- Citrus fruits including oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes and pineapples
- Garlic, onions and other spicy foods
- Mint and products with mint flavoring, like chewing gum and breath mints
Changes in lifestyle
People who have GERD can usually manage their symptoms with changes in lifestyle and over-the-counter medications. Lifestyle changes can include:
- Taking antacids and other medications that reduce acid production
- Chewing gum that isn’t peppermint or spearmint flavored
- Avoiding alcohol
- Remaining upright for at least two hours after eating
- Not overeating and not eating within three or four hours of going to bed
- Raising the head of your bed four to six inches while sleeping
- Stop smoking
If you have questions about what foods you should include in your diet to control or reduce your symptoms of acid reflux, see your primary care physician. Your doctor may also recommend medication or surgery, depending on the severity of your case. If you need a doctor, visit mercy.com to find a provider near you today.