Gurgle, burp, ouch — more than 60 million Americans suffer from acid reflux, a digestive disorder marked by a hot, burning feeling that rises up from the stomach.
Also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, the digestive disorder affects about 20% of Americans, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Acid reflux occurs when acid from your stomach flows back up into your esophagus, says Beth Czerwony, a registered dietitian with Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Human Nutrition.
What Causes GERD
Some researchers believe GERD is an inherited trait, and that men are more likely to experience acid reflux than women. A person’s lifestyle is also a factor in who experiences acid reflux, Czerwony says.
Every individual’s lower esophageal sphincter and diaphragm “most often” prevent GERD, according to the NIDDKD. Many individuals experience acid reflux not as a chronic condition, but once in a while. GERD can develop if your lower esophageal sphincter weakens or relaxes when it shouldn’t.
Even though food itself doesn’t cause acid reflux, research shows that consuming large meals can increase the chances of experiencing heartburn, says Amy Kimberlain, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator based in Miami and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Because large meals take longer to digest, that contributes to this increased possibility (of GERD),” she says.
One general recommendation is to stay upright after a meal and aim to avoid laying down for at least two hours after eating. “This can help to prevent the lower esophageal sphincter from opening and releasing the contents of your stomach into your esophagus,” Kimberlain says. “Instead, maybe go for a walk after your meal to help ease/aid digestion.”
Conditions and other lifestyle habits that may make people more susceptible to experiencing GERD include:
— Excessive intake of alcohol and caffeine.
— Having obesity, particularly if extra weight is centrally located around your midsection.
— Increased stress.
Acid Reflux Diet: Foods to Avoid
While your diet doesn’t cause acid reflux, research suggests certain foods might exacerbate GERD.
These foods and beverages include:
— Alcoholic beverages.
— High acid foods, like oranges, grapefruits, lemons and tomatoes.
— Carbonated beverages.
— Coffee and other sources of caffeine.
— Fatty foods.
— Spicy foods.
Acid Reflux Diet Foods
While there’s no such thing as an acid reflux diet meal plan, certain foods are safe for people who are experiencing acid reflux, Czerwony says.
— Lean proteins (baked, not fried).
— Whole grains.
Acid Reflux Diet Food Tips
It’s important to keep in mind that there is no specific “acid reflux diet” or “GERD diet,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, a registered dietitian based in Sparta, New Jersey, and author of “2 Day Diabetes Diet.”
Though there’s no acid reflux diet per se, there are specific dietary approaches that can help you avoid GERD.
“In addition to limiting spicy, fatty and acidic foods and not eating too close to bedtime, the volume of food needs to be considered,” she says. “For instance, nuts and avocados provide heart-healthy fats, but eating too much dietary fat — even the good — kind can trigger reflux in sensitive people. Focusing on how you eat is just as important as what you eat when it comes to managing reflux.”
Generally, consuming a well-balanced diet high in whole grains, fruits and lean proteins with a moderate amount of healthy fats and low-fat dairy is a good approach to combating acid reflux, says Kaylee Jacks, a sports dietitian with Texas Health Sports Medicine in Dallas.
“Eating smaller and more frequent portions allows your body time to digest the food easier,” Jacks says. “When you eat large portions the large volume of food in the stomach increases stomach acid and pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter to allow contents back into the esophagus.”
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Update 07/20/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.