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Best – and Worst – Foods for Acid Reflux

Posted 4/15/2014 by UHBlog

Best – and Worst – Foods for Acid Reflux

A hot burning in the chest, a bitter taste in the throat, a gassy bloating in the stomach – acid reflux is no picnic. What you pack for your picnic, though, may be the difference between sweet relief and sour misery.

“Dietary changes,” says gastrointestinal surgeon Leena Khaitan, MD, “can significantly affect acid reflux and allow avoidance of other treatments.”

Dr. Khaitan explains that acid reflux occurs when the sphincter at the base of the esophagus isn’t working well, allowing fluid from the stomach to enter the esophagus. And certain foods can exacerbate this – or soothe – the painful symptoms. “A diet well-balanced with vegetables, protein and fruits is best,” says Dr. Khaitan. Use our guidelines to help you modify your meals.

Best foods for acid reflux

  • Chicken breasts
    Be sure to remove the fatty skin. Skip fried and instead opt for baked, broiled or grilled.
  • Lettuce, celery and sweet peppers
    These mild green veggies are easy on the stomach – and won’t cause painful gas.
  • Brown rice
    This complex carbohydrate is mild and filling – just don’t serve it fried.
  • Melons
    Watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew are all low-acid fruits.
  • Oatmeal
    Filling, hearty and healthy, this comforting breakfast standard also works for lunch.
  • Fennel
    This low-acid crunchy vegetable has a mild licorice flavor and a natural soothing effect.
  • Ginger
    Steep caffeine-free ginger tea or chew on low-sugar dried ginger for a natural tummy tamer.

Worst foods for acid reflux

  • Coffee and tea
    Caffeinated beverages aggravate acid reflux. Opt for caffeine-free teas.
  • Carbonated beverages
    The bubbles expand in your stomach, creating more pressure and pain. Choose plain water or caffeine-free iced tea.
  • Chocolate
    This treat has a trifecta of acid reflux problems: caffeine, fat and cocoa.
  • Peppermint
    Don’t be fooled by its reputation for soothing the tummy – peppermint is an acid reflux trigger.
  • Grapefruit and orange
    The high acidity of citrus fruits relaxes the esophagus sphincter and worsens symptoms.
  • Tomatoes
    Also avoid marinara sauce, ketchup and tomato soup – they’re all naturally high in acid.
  • Alcohol
    This has a double whammy effect: alcohol automatically relaxes the sphincter valve but it also stimulates the production of acid in the stomach.
  • Fried foods
    These are some of the worst foods to aggravate your reflux. Skip fast food and prepare your own meals at home – in the oven or on the grill.
  • Late-night snacks
    Avoid eating anything in the two hours before you go to bed. Also, you can try eating four to five smaller meals throughout the day instead of two to three large meals.

Dr. Khaitan explains that there are three lines of treatment: first, healthy diet and lifestyle changes; second, medications that can block acid; and finally, surgical procedures on the esophagus sphincter. Consult with your physician if diet changes still do not alleviate your acid reflux symptoms.

It is important to see a physician if you have heartburn or acid reflux that is severe or frequent. Chronic acid reflux is known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and can lead to esophageal cancer.

April is Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month. Learn more here. Learn more about acid reflux here.

Leena Khaitan, MD, is the Surgical Director of the Esophageal & Swallowing Center and the Director of the Bariatric Surgery Program at University Hospitals Digestive Health Institute.

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