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Good Foods for GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease)

Updated on May 3, 2017
AliciaC profile image

Linda Crampton is a teacher with an honors degree in biology. She enjoys exploring nutrition as well as the culture and history of food.

Apples are usually safe for people with GERD.
Apples are usually safe for people with GERD. | Source

What Is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is a condition in which stomach acid and partially digested food travel up from the stomach into the esophagus instead of traveling down into the small intestine. The acid reflux (movement of acid in the wrong direction) causes heartburn, which is a burning sensation in the chest. Acid reflux isn't always classified as GERD, but if it occurs frequently it may be. Frequent episodes of acid in the esophagus must be treated in order to prevent potentially dangerous health problems from developing.

I've never been diagnosed with GERD, but I've experienced episodes of acid reflux and heartburn for a number of years. In my case, the condition is linked to a dietary factor. If I avoid wheat, I don't suffer from reflux. If I'm silly and eat food containing wheat—which I do at times—I have to suffer the consequences or eat the chewable calcium carbonate tablets that are sold as antacids. Repeatedly taken medicines for a situation that I could avoid is not a good idea. For me, and perhaps for some other acid reflux sufferers, the best solution for the problem is a dietary one.

Tomatoes and lemon juice are often problematic for GERD sufferers. Some people who experience heartburn have no problems with these foods, however.
Tomatoes and lemon juice are often problematic for GERD sufferers. Some people who experience heartburn have no problems with these foods, however. | Source

The Lower Esophageal Sphincter

GERD is caused by the faulty behavior of a circular muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES. This muscle is found at the end of the esophagus where the stomach begins. Normally, when food leaves the esophagus and enters the stomach, the LES contracts and closes the stomach entrance. This action prevents food from going the wrong way. In people with gastroesophageal reflux disease, the LES doesn't do its job. This allows acid and stomach contents to travel backward (or "reflux") into the esophagus.

Once gastroesophageal reflux disease appears, it's often a lifelong condition. There are medications that can relieve the symptoms, but a change in diet can also be very helpful in treating the disorder. Even if medications can't be avoided, dietary changes may reduce the amount of medication that's required and greatly improve symptoms.

The lower esophageal sphincter is also known as the cardiac sphincter.

The Human Digestive Tract

The esophagus is connected to the stomach. A circular muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter is present at this location.
The esophagus is connected to the stomach. A circular muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter is present at this location. | Source

A small amount of reflux from the stomach is normal and doesn't cause any symptoms. When people say that they have "acid reflux", they generally mean that the effects are noticeable.

Difference Between Acid Reflux, Heartburn, and GERD

The terms acid reflux, heartburn, and GERD are related to each other but don't mean exactly the same thing.

Acid Reflux

"Acid reflux" means that a significant amount of stomach acid is regurgitated and enters the esophagus. This can occur due to a temporary alteration in the behavior of the lower esophageal sphincter. The sphincter may be pushed open by a very full stomach, for example—especially when a person is lying down or leaning over—or by excess fat in the abdomen. Tight-fitting clothes may also trigger acid reflux, and so can exercises that increase abdominal pressure. In sensitive people, certain foods or drinks can relax the LES and allow stomach contents to enter the esophagus, especially when they are ingested in large quantities. Acid reflux is occasionally known as gastroesophageal reflux.

Heartburn

Acid reflux often causes heartburn, a burning sensation in the chest. The heartburn may be accompanied by other symptoms, such as a sour taste and a burning sensation in the mouth. There may also be a cough, a sore throat, and hoarseness. Acid reflux may trigger an asthma attack in asthmatics.

GERD

Many people experience acid reflux and heartburn occasionally. If there is a long-term problem with the behavior of the lower esophageal sphincter, however, acid reflux and heartburn may occur regularly and be prolonged or severe. This disorder may be diagnosed as gastroesophageal reflux disease. A GERD sufferer may experience heartburn at least twice a week, or even every day. In some people the discomfort is almost constant. GERD is also known as acid reflux disease. It's very important that anyone with more than very occasional heartburn visits their doctor. If you have GERD, you need to know about it and treat it, with your doctor's guidance.

What Is GERD and What Problems Can It Cause?

Individual Variation in Food Sensitivity

When you read the suggestions given in this article for foods to avoid and foods to include in an anti-GERD diet, remember that while the recommendations are helpful for many people they may need to be fine-tuned for your particular case of the disorder. Different patients often need slightly different diets.

My body's response to wheat is an example of an individual food sensitivity. Wheat isn't listed as a food to avoid in most anti-GERD diets, but eating more than a very small amount of the grain gives me heartburn. On the other hand, people sometimes discover that a common food trigger for GERD doesn't make them uncomfortable. This is good news (as long as the food is healthy) because it means that the food can be included in the diet.

Pears are often good for a GERD diet.
Pears are often good for a GERD diet. | Source

Keeping a Food Diary

A good way to find your ideal diet that gives you no GERD symptoms or at least reduces them is to keep a food diary for at least a week. Record everything that you eat and drink for each meal and note if the meal causes heartburn. If it does, you will need to eat or drink each component of the meal separately and at widely spaced intervals to determine which item is causing the heartburn.

An alternative plan is to avoid all the potentially unsafe foods for GERD sufferers, and then—assuming that none of the "safe" foods cause heartburn—add the "dangerous" foods one at a time to see if a food is a trigger for acid reflux. If it isn't, then you know that you have found one more food that you can add to your diet and that you don't need to avoid. It would be a great shame to avoid healthy and flavorful foods such as tomatoes and citrus fruits if this isn't necessary.

Onions can be problematic for GERD sufferers.
Onions can be problematic for GERD sufferers. | Source

Benefits and Disadvantages of Food Testing

The food testing process takes time. In addition, the consequence of testing the "wrong" food is an unpleasant bout of heartburn and its accompanying symptoms. These are some disadvantages of testing foods to discovery sensitivities. The advantages of creating your own diet instead of following recommended GERD diets exactly are that you end up with the widest possible variety of foods in your diet and that all the food that you eat is safe for you. It's often worth making the effort to test food, since GERD is often a lifelong disorder.

Keeping a food diary and performing food tests are useful for many people. If your GERD is severe, however, adding a potentially irritating food to your diet and performing food tests aren't advisable. In this case it's important to reduce the pain and acid flow as soon as possible, by medication, by avoiding common food triggers, or by whatever strategies your doctor suggests.

Cocoa may relax the LES in sensitive people and cause acid reflux.
Cocoa may relax the LES in sensitive people and cause acid reflux. | Source

It's important that GERD is treated. Repeatedly bathing the lining of the esophagus in acid may cause inflammation. This inflammation may in turn cause structural changes in the esophageal lining and result in a condition known as Barrett's esophagus. This condition is believed to be a risk factor for esophageal cancer.

Foods That May Cause GERD Symptoms

According to most researchers, the following foods have a high probability of triggering heartburn, especially in a person with GERD. Even if the disorder hasn't been diagnosed, avoiding these foods or limiting their quantity may help to prevent discomfort.

  • chocolate and cocoa
  • peppermint and spearmint
  • tomatoes and tomato products
  • foods that are high in fat
  • fried foods
  • coffee (caffeinated or decaffeinated)
  • alcohol
  • citrus fruits and juices (Citrus fruits include oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits, and related fruits.)
  • carbonated beverages
  • onion and garlic

Spices are frequently listed as foods to avoid on an anti-GERD diet, but some researchers now say that although spices may irritate the stomach, they don't affect the lower esophageal sphincter and so don't contribute to GERD. Try spices in small quantities if you want to test them. Foods that irritate the stomach or increase acidity in the stomach may not affect the LES, but they may make acid reflux more painful.

If you want to drink tea, try it with caution. Some people say that tea has no effect on their acid reflux or even makes it better, while others say that tea makes their condition worse.

Treating GERD

If you find that you repeatedly need to treat your heartburn with an over-the-counter drugstore medication, it's time to visit a doctor for a diagnosis and treatment recommendations.

Foods That Are Usually Safe for a GERD Diet

There are many foods that are generally considered to be safe for a GERD diet. The foods should be cooked without fat or eaten raw.

  • Vegetables, except for tomatoes and tomato products
  • Legumes or pulses (beans, peas, and lentils)
  • Fruits, except for citrus fruits (Try apples, pears, bananas, peaches, apricots, melons, and berries)
  • Grains (whole grains are best for weight control and for health)
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Lean poultry and meats
  • Fish
  • Herbs except for mint
  • Non-citrus fruit juices, such as apple juice and grape juice
  • Herbal teas that don't contain mint leaves, such as rooibos tea
  • Coffee substitutes made from grains
  • Water
  • Extras: Low-fat and non-spicy salad dressings, jam, and jelly

A GERD diet can be very healthy. Salt, sugar, and other sweeteners are safe for most acid reflux sufferers, but it's not a good idea to include too much of these substances in the diet since they can cause other health problems. I find that granules of seaweeds such as kelp or dulse are a good substitute for salt.

Green vegetables like broccoli are usually safe for a GERD diet.
Green vegetables like broccoli are usually safe for a GERD diet. | Source

Celiac Disease and Heartburn

Heartburn may indicate the presence of certain diseases rather than just a LES problem. For example, it's one of the symptoms of celiac disease. In this condition, the lining of the small intestine is damaged and the villi are flattened. Villi are tiny projections of the intestinal lining that increase the surface area for the absorption of food. Without villi, it's very hard for a person to obtain enough nutrients from their food.

Celiac disease results from an intolerance to gluten. Gluten is a protein complex found in wheat, rye, barley, and related grains. People with celiac disease must permanently avoid gluten in order for new villi to appear. The disease can have serious consequences if it's not treated.

If your food diary shows that you get heartburn after eating a grain containing gluten, it would be a good idea to get tested for the presence of celiac disease. I've been tested for the disease and have discovered that I don't have the disorder.

It's important that you know whether or not you have celiac disease if you find a grain problematic. You can then either avoid gluten if necessary or eat the gluten-containing grains that cause you no problem. Whole grains are very nutritious. A specific grain shouldn't be eliminated from the diet unless this is essential.

Oranges and other citrus fruits like lemons, limes, and grapefruits may cause heartburn in some people.
Oranges and other citrus fruits like lemons, limes, and grapefruits may cause heartburn in some people. | Source

Heartburn may be a symptom of a heart attack. If you have a severe case of heartburn or one that seems different from normal, or if the heartburn is accompanied by unusual symptoms, you should visit a doctor immediately. Other disorders can cause heartburn as well, including a gallbladder attack.

Lifestyle Changes That May Help GERD

In addition to avoiding foods and drinks that make symptoms worse, the following lifestyle changes may be helpful in treating GERD.

  • Avoid large meals. Eat frequent, small meals instead.
  • Don't eat within two to three hours of going to bed or lying down.
  • Raise the head of your bed by about six to eight inches by placing wooden blocks under the bed posts.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothes.
  • Lose weight if necessary.
  • Don't smoke.

Although GERD is a very unpleasant condition, there are many treatments that can help prevent the symptoms. A combination of medications, dietary changes, and a lifestyle change will relieve the discomfort of most cases of GERD. In relatively mild cases, dietary changes may be sufficient to prevent noticeable acid reflux and medications may not be needed. In severe cases, surgery to help the lower esophageal sphincter function better or to substitute for its function may be a helpful treatment.

References

© 2012 Linda Crampton

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    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 9 hours ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I'm sorry about your symptoms, Patricia. You should visit a doctor for help.

    • profile image

      Patricia 9 hours ago

      i have been coughing a lot until I throw up clear fluid. I am experiencing a salty constant drip of fluid down my throat. it drains all the time.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 14 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Joan. That's an interesting question. You should ask your doctor about this the next time that you visit him or her. I can't advise people about their specific problems because I'm a science writer, not a physician. I hope you find help for your condition.

    • profile image

      Joan 14 months ago

      I was diagnosed with Barrett's esophagus. Can eating barley, or drinking barley water help? Thank you for your time

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 19 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Tina. I'm sorry that you have such bad GERD. I hope the surgery is helpful for you. It sounds like a good strategy to try in your case. Best wishes to you.

    • profile image

      Tina Zimmer 19 months ago

      I found this to be very helpful, i have suffered with GERD for a good part of my life , i am no in the process of getting the surgery scheduled to be performed on me. im scared but to tell the truth im more scared of dying in my sleep because at this point in my journey, i have begun to puke up in my my sleep the GERD is so bad, and my doctor after all these years on so many different types of meds is now worried i just may drown in my sleep after i showed him a picture that was taken after a bout of it, so here i go on a different road with this i pray it helps i can not take this any longer, thank you for all this information it is very helpful and i have wrote down everything i found useful for myself personally, thanks again ,

      Tina

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 23 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Aelbarsha. Thanks for the comment and for sharing the information. Improving eating habits seems to improve acid reflux symptoms in many cases, as you say. Sometimes additional help is necessary to manage the disorder, but improving the diet (if this is necessary) is always a good idea!

    • Aelbarsha profile image

      Abdelhakim Elbarsha 23 months ago from Benghazi/Libya

      Thanks for the great article. I liked it!

      Manipulating food may be as effective as other measures in relieving heartburn caused by acid reflux. It's actually the bad eating habits (quality and quantity), which make acid reflux worse or it brings it up. Adopting healthy eating habits, is a kind of "restoring" to the normal way of eating, and acid reflux should then vanish, or at least get improved.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the comment, Peg. I hope your symptoms improve soon.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Thanks for these great tips in dealing with GERD. Recently I've been experiencing many of the symptoms, made worse when I lie down. I will use your plan to take note of the food items which affect me and take action to improve my diet.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, berryalecia!

    • profile image

      berryalecia 3 years ago

      Useful information thanks for sharingt...

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for sharing your experience, jpcmc.

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      ince the doctor told me I had acid reflux my life changed! I can't eat sour and spicy food - which i love. I can't even drink coffee. At least this one I can live without. Lifestyle change is a must. :)

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the interesting comment, BlissfulWriter. It shows how important it is for a GERD patient to work with their doctor to investigate all aspects of their problem!

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, donnah75. Thank you very much for the comment and the share! I'm able to manage my acid reflux with a change in diet, too, which I'm happy about. I don't want to take medications, either!

    • BlissfulWriter profile image

      BlissfulWriter 4 years ago

      One possible cause of GERD is low stomach acid. Hence, it may not be wise to take antiacid which would lower stomach acid even further. Other prescription drugs that have the side effect of reducing stomach acid may also be causing GERD. Prilosec, for example, reduces the secretion of hydrochloric acid.

      Without enough hydrochloric acid, the PH level is not low enough to kill bacteria. With an overgrowth of intestinal bacteria, they will ferment undigested carbohydrates causing gas, bloating, and intra-abdominal pressure. Hence causing the lower esophageal valve to open and let stomach content back up the esophagas.

      Decreasing carbohydrate consumption will restrict the bacteria's preferred food and may help with GERD.

    • donnah75 profile image

      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      This is a great article. I like your advice to try dietary changes as a way to manage this unpleasant condition. I was going through a period of having terrible acid reflux, and I hate the thought of taking medication for it. I made some serious changes to my diet, and I haven't had a problem since. It is so important to listen to our body. Voted up and sharing.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for the very interesting information, RTalloni! I hope the elliptical machine exercise continues to work for you.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

      Interesting look at these disorders that are often lumped together. Recently, I began using an elliptical machine right after each meal. Symptoms that could be linked to these diseases diminished right away. I'm looking forward to seeing if this will continue!

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much, Peggy. I appreciate the comment, the vote and the tweet!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Alicia,

      Your hubs are always well researched and offer such good advice to people. While I do not suffer from GERD, am sure that this hub will help many people avoid offending foods...and the food diary is an excellent way to start diagnosing which are the worst foods and beverages that trigger GERD. Up votes and tweeting.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Angela. It is interesting to discover that some GERD patients can eat foods that cause acid reflux in other patients! Thank you for the visit.

    • angela_michelle profile image

      Angela Michelle Schultz 5 years ago from United States

      I thought it was very important that you pointed out that all gerd patients are different and are affected by different foods. I think it is important to know that there isn't a single one-size fits all cure.

      Both my daughter and my husband have acid reflux. I have to admit I was surprised that spearmint can make it worse. I always thought it was helpful.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the comment and the vote, PaisleeGal. I'm sorry that your GERD has produced Barrett's syndrome. Good luck with managing the condition.

    • PaisleeGal profile image

      Pat Materna 5 years ago from Memphis, Tennessee, USA

      Thanks for this article. Very precise and to the point. Good information. I was diagnosed with this couple of years ago and it's a learning game for sure. In my case I put off going to doctor and now also have Barrett's syndrome because of the damage. I somehow was not aware of the carbonated beverage thing. I'm going to have to watch that from now and see if I see a difference. Thanks again for a good story! Voted up.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for sharing your experience and for the useful suggestions, d ingbretson! I'm sure they will help some GERD sufferers.

    • profile image

      d ingbretson 5 years ago

      I suffer from GERD and you are right on the $ with this article. I could not eat any chocolate for 2 years I found that carob is a great replacement for when you are really craving chocolate, and is much healthier for you. Low acid tomatoes (yellow pear) in moderation are great for when you just want some on a salad or to munch on out of the garden. I still don't drink any caffine as this is still a major trigger for me after 4 years. I also increas my yogurt intake as probiotics help to balance the flora in the gut and keeps my Gerd to a dul roar when I have had a major flair up. hope this is helpful to other Gerd suffers.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much, Alecia. I appreciate your comment and the votes! I hope you're able to deal with your acid reflux successfully.

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      You did a great job in providing a thorough explanation of GERD. I have acid reflux and although it is trying- I feel my best when I eat as healthfully as possible and exercise. Voted up and useful.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Om. Hopefully after some experimenting your husband will discover the foods that he is sensitive to and be able to eat the others. I hope his GERD symptoms are resolved soon! Thanks for the visit and the comment.

    • Om Paramapoonya profile image

      Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago

      Thanks for these helpful tips. Really well-researched. I don't have this problem, but my husband does. So I'll try to help him avoid foods that may cause GERD symptoms. Too bad, many foods on the "no" list are actually his favorites.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the comment, Funom Makama 3. I appreciate your visit!

    • Funom Makama 3 profile image

      Funom Theophilus Makama 5 years ago from Europe

      The information here is so adequate on the subject issue. I learnt this during my hygiene class in my third year of medical school and I am happy to come across such a wonderful hub again..

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the kind comment, Martie. I appreciate it very much! Your comment is interesting, too. I was experiencing repeated bouts of heartburn not long ago, and on my first visit to my doctor he sent me for a gallbladder test (which was negative). It's a great shame that you had to wait so long for your test!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the comment, the vote and the pin, teaches! It's not always clear why the LES stops working properly in some people. It would be nice if researchers could solve this problem, because then it might be easier to help people with GERD!

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 5 years ago from South Africa

      Awesome article about Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. (GERD.) Gallstones were the cause of my GERD and it took a couple of months before my doctor realized this. I remember telling a friend of mine that I was suffering oesophagitis (caused by GERD). Shocked (because of the formidable word), she asked: "How long will you still be with us?" Of course, she was only pulling my leg.

      Most impressive hub, Alicia. Google will certainly regard this as important and profound web-content.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      Excellent advice and so simple to follow. I don't suffer from this, guess it is because I eat the healthier food choices you have listed here. Voted up and pinned.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the comment and the vote, Tom - and thank you for the share as well!

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi my friend great well written and researched hub, you covered this subject completely and provided your reader with a lot of useful and valuable information that they can use if they suffer from this. Well done !

      Vote up and more !!! SHARING !

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for such an amazing comment. drbj!! I appreciate your visits to my hubs and your comments very much. Thank you for the vote as well!

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 5 years ago from south Florida

      With this hub, Alicia, you have proven once again, that when it comes to medical advice, the doctor is IN. I cannot think of a single medical professional who could have done a more complete and comprehensive job explaining GERD than you have. Brava and a large Up+!