Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic gastrointestinal condition that is typified by unusually frequent bouts of acid reflux or heartburn. While occasional acid reflux is normal, GERD can be highly uncomfortable and have a significant impact on your overall quality of life.
GERD is linked to your diet, and while there are plenty of medications that can help you manage this condition, you may be able to control acid reflux events by changing what you eat. By eliminating or reducing GERD trigger foods, you may be able to control this condition and embrace a diet that makes you feel good in your day-to-day activities. Here are some of the most common foods that can trigger acid reflux events and exacerbate GERD that you should limit or avoid in your diet:
Dairy products made from cow’s milk are one of the most common triggers of acid reflux, both among people who suffer from GERD and people who don’t. The link between dairy and GERD has been well-established, and although it doesn’t directly cause acid reflux, it may worsen some of your symptoms. Do your best to reduce or eliminate the following dairy products from your diet:
- Whole and 2% milk;
- Products made from whole milk, such as yogurt and cheese;
- Flavored milks, such as chocolate or strawberry;
- Hot dairy beverages, such as hot chocolate;
- Dairy ice cream and milkshakes.
Depending on how dairy makes you feel, you may want to try switching to low- or nonfat dairy products, as they may not be as aggravating to your stomach. You could also replace it with a dairy alternative, such as soy, almond, or coconut. There are dairy substitutes for virtually all products made from cow’s milk in most grocery stores.
All forms of alcohol — including beer, wine, and spirits — are thought to have negative effects on people with GERD. Alcohol can affect all parts of your body, including your digestive system. Researchers aren’t completely sure what the relationship between alcohol and GERD is, but the consumption of alcohol can inflame and irritate the stomach and impair the functioning of your esophageal sphincter. Some researchers have even tried to see how different types of alcohol can impact GERD and its symptoms, but there have been varying and, at times, contradictory results.
Alcohol may not directly cause GERD, but it could aggravate your symptoms. Certain drinks, especially others that are already associated with heartburn, may be especially irritating, like caffeinated or carbonated beverages. Further, if you do choose to drink alcohol while dealing with GERD, it’s best to limit yourself to one drink at a time and to avoid drinking right before going to bed, as you may be more likely to experience acid reflux during the night.
Doctors often recommend that individuals suffering from GERD avoid caffeine in all its forms, including:
- Coffee and espresso;
- Caffeinated teas;
- Caffeinated sodas;
- Energy drinks;
- A decaf version of a caffeinated beverage, which often contains small amounts of caffeine, such as coffee or soda;
- Foods with caffeine or flavored with caffeinated foods, such as chocolate cake or coffee-flavored ice cream.
However, much like other trigger foods, it isn’t completely clear how caffeine affects GERD or its symptoms. Some studies indicate that there is seemingly no relationship between caffeine and GERD; anecdotal evidence from individuals suffering from GERD, on the other hand, indicates that caffeine may trigger or intensify acid reflux episodes. As with other foods on this list, caffeine may affect different people in different ways. If you can’t live without your morning cup of coffee, you should pay close attention to how you feel after consuming caffeine before eliminating it from your diet completely.
Acidic Drinks or Foods
Acidic foods and drinks can worsen your GERD symptoms or contribute to an acid reflux episode. In addition to some foods discussed above, like coffee, this includes foods such as:
- Citrus fruit, such as oranges and grapefruit;
- Citrus juice, such as orange juice and lemon or lime juice;
- Garlic, onions, and other alliums;
- Mint and mint-flavored foods and drinks;
- Tomatoes and tomato products, such as tomato sauce or ketchup;
- Processed foods.
Even foods that are traditionally considered “healthy,” such as pineapple, can aggravate acid reflux events because of their acidity. Foods that are naturally high in acid can affect the overall acidity of your stomach and heighten your GERD symptoms. Eat acidic foods only in moderation, if at all, and pay careful attention to how you feel after doing so.
Any food that is spicy has long been considered a GERD trigger. The spiciness in most fiery dishes, whether it’s extra hot salsa at a Mexican restaurant or your favorite Thai curry, comes from a compound called capsaicin. Experts believe that capsaicin slows the rate of digestion, causing food to sit in your stomach longer, which is another GERD risk factor in and of itself. The hotness of capsaicin can also irritate your esophagus, exacerbating any heartburn symptoms you may already be experiencing.
On the other hand, one study has found that eating spicy foods regularly may not produce the same effects as eating it only on occasion. They even go so far as to suggest that eating spicy foods on a regular basis can actually improve your GERD symptoms, rather than worsen them. Everyone is unique and while spicy food may bother others, it may not bother you. When deciding what foods to avoid, it’s important to pay attention to how your body feels in response before cutting something out.
Chocolate is one of the most common GERD trigger foods. This means you may want to avoid or limit all forms of chocolate, including:
- Pure chocolate;
- Chocolate candy or candy with chocolate in it;
- Chocolate beverages, such as chocolate milk or chocolate milkshakes.
Researchers have discovered that chocolate causes intestinal cells to release serotonin; this, in turn, causes the esophageal sphincter to relax and allows stomach acid to flow upwards. In addition, chocolate is acidic, which can irritate your stomach and esophagus, and it contains caffeine, another common GERD trigger.
Carbonated beverages are another common GERD trigger for many people. This includes:
- Carbonated water;
- Carbonated energy drinks;
- Carbonated alcoholic drinks;
- Carbonated juices.
Carbonated beverages are often acidic, caffeinated, or both, especially sodas and energy drinks. This can further worsen GERD symptoms or an acid reflux episode. While a growing body of research shows that carbonated beverages in and of themselves are not connected with GERD, other common features of carbonated drinks (including caffeine and sugar content) are. Again, it’s important to assess how you feel after consuming carbonated drinks and to pay attention to how different types of carbonated drinks affect you before eliminating them from your diet completely. Carbonated drinks may not bother everyone, but if they do trigger or worsen an acid reflux event, it’s best to avoid them.
High-Fat, Fried, or Fast Food
Foods that are high in fat or fried are generally thought to precipitate acid reflux events and worsen GERD symptoms. Fatty foods can relax your esophageal sphincter and slow down the emptying of your stomach, both of which can increase the likelihood of acid reflux. Generally, you should try to avoid:
- Food from fast-food restaurants;
- Deep-fried foods, such as onion rings and french fries;
- Potato chips and other processed snacks;
- Creamy sauces, spreads, and dips;
- High-fat cuts of red meat.
For many Americans, these foods are a dietary staple — especially fast food — and it can be difficult to make the necessary changes for your health. Fast food is often both fatty and fried, and may also be served with other common GERD triggers, such as an acidic and carbonated soda or a chocolate milkshake. Sometimes, fast food is the only option; in those instances, try to find items on the menu that are less likely to contribute to acid reflux.
More Ways To Control GERD With Dietary Changes
In addition to avoiding certain foods, there are even more dietary changes and lifestyle modifications you can make to control GERD. Exploring all the various ways you can manage this condition will help you discover what works best for you and make dealing with GERD that much easier on a daily basis.
Identify Trigger Foods
When it comes to controlling GERD with your diet, it’s crucial to see how different foods affect you and to identify your specific trigger foods. Some types of food and drink may be common GERD triggers for many people, but may not have the same effect on you. Finding out what actually triggers an acid reflux event will allow you to continue enjoying as many foods as possible and make it easier for you to avoid whatever does affect you.
Keeping a Food Diary
Maintain a diary of everything you eat and drink, including when you consumed it and the size of your portions. When you have an acid reflux event, you should record that in your diary as well. Then, you can refer back to your diary to see what food or drink may be the culprit. Collect as much information about your dietary habits as possible to get a complete picture of how what you eat affects your GERD symptoms.
Implementing Dietary Changes at the Individual Level
You don’t have to immediately remove all potential trigger foods from your diet when attempting to control GERD. In an effort to identify your specific trigger foods, you may want to make individual changes to your diet. Try only eliminating one food from your diet at a time and see how your body responds. You can then re-introduce foods back into your diet if you don’t notice a difference in how you feel or how often you experience an acid reflux event, as that single food may not actually be a trigger for you if you’re still dealing with intense GERD symptoms without eating it.
Eat More Helpful Foods to Reduce Symptoms
Finally, you may find it helpful to adopt a GERD-friendly diet. Green vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats are all great options for controlling reflux in your daily activities. Eating these foods may actually help reduce the number and severity of acid reflux events, while helping you avoid the foods that may trigger them.
Additionally, it may be helpful to shift your mindset and attitude about GERD. It can be a difficult condition to deal with, but making these changes to your diet and lifestyle is an important first step toward controlling it. Managing GERD doesn’t have to mean eliminating “fun” foods from your diet; instead, think of this as an opportunity to try new things and enjoy a greater variety of foods. After all, when it comes to GERD, controlling your diet is a necessity for living a healthier, higher-quality life.