The Best and Worst Foods When You Have 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 eat, however, can make the difference between sweet relief and sour misery.

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, says gastrointestinal surgeon Leena Khaitan, MD.

“Dietary changes can significantly affect acid reflux and allow avoidance of other treatments,” Dr. Khaitan says.

Best Foods for Acid Reflux

“A diet well-balanced with vegetables, protein and fruits is best,” Dr. Khaitan says.

  • Chicken breasts – Be sure to remove the fatty skin. Skip fried and instead choose 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.

It's a good idea to talk with your doctor if diet changes do not give your relief from acid reflux symptoms, Dr. Khaitan says. Other alternatives can include lifestyle changes, medications that can block acid and surgical procedures on the esophagus sphincter.

It is important to see your doctor if you have heartburn or acid reflux that is severe or frequent, Dr. Khaitan says. Chronic acid reflux is known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and can lead to esophageal cancer.

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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