Millions of Americans suffer everyday from heartburn, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. It has estimated that as many as 20 percent of Americans experience heartburn at least once a week and as many as 40 percent of Americans experience it at least once a month. The uncomfortable sensation can stem from increased production of stomach acid or from the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) relaxing and allowing stomach acid to travel back up the esophagus. In addition to the pain of heartburn, GERD can cause nausea, coughing, and even dental problems. It can disrupt daily life and reduce the quality of sleep or even prevent sleep altogether. All of which can have lasting effects longer than the uncomfortable time immediately after eating. No matter what symptoms you are experiencing, you likely want to end them. The fortunate side of how common this disease is, is that it is fairly well understood and agreed upon which foods increase and decrease symptoms of GERD.
While there are a few additional options unrelated to food to help reduce symptoms of GERD, the most effective and most sustainable solution is to tailor your diet around the foods that best reduce your symptoms. This involves eliminating foods that hurt, such as fatty foods, acidic foods, and drinks such as sodas and coffee, and replacing them with foods that help, such as low fat alternatives, fiber rich complex carbs, lean proteins, and other foods that increase healthy digestion. Additionally, as you are changing your diet, work to eat smaller and more frequent meals allowing your digestive system to work more smoothly and always eat your last meal of the day two to three hours before lying down for bed.
The first half of the equation, eliminating bad foods, is arguably the most important. The two big ones are fatty foods and acidic foods. Additionally drinks like coffee, any carbonated drinks, and alcohol can cause heartburn pain. Fatty foods can hurt you in two ways as they stay in your stomach longer causing more stomach acid to be produced and they relax the LES allowing that extra acid to escape up and cause pain. A few examples of fatty foods to avoid include fried foods, fatty cuts of meat, butter, dairy products, creamy sauces and dressings, and ice cream. Acidic foods are another big cause of heartburn. Foods like citrus fruits, tomatoes, and vinegar are some of the most common culprits. A few other various foods that are commonly considered to worsen heartburn symptoms include garlic, onions, spicy foods, foods that make you feel bloated, and even chocolate.
If you can cut out a lot of these harmful foods you’re off to a great start. Now you can introduce some foods that may help reduce your heartburn pain. These include fiber rich complex carbs, low fat proteins, and other foods that promote smooth digestion. Low fat yogurt and other foods containing probiotics are especially helpful here. Some high fiber complex carbs include whole wheat breads and pastas, brown rice, and couscous. Peanut butter is a great lean protein if you do not have an intolerance for it, as well as eggs or egg whites cooked without any added fats (e.g. poach eggs rather than frying them with butter). Turkey, chicken, and fish are also good examples of lean proteins. Turkey is an especially handy replacement for things like hamburger and bacon as turkey versions of both are common in most grocery stores. Finally, fruit and vegetables which are not as acidic, such as melons, apples, celery, potatoes and other root vegetables, are essential.
Keep in mind, these foods are a starting point. They are foods which are found to commonly increase or decrease GERD symptoms. Each person though will have individual reactions and tolerances to each food. Slowly eliminate bad foods, replace them with good foods, and monitor your body’s reactions. Keep a daily food journal recording all meals and snacks and your body’s reactions to each. Keep track of and, if possible, consult with doctor over these results. In addition to a healthy lifestyle, if you continue this process to slowly increase your personal good foods and eliminate your personal bad foods, you can help to reduce your GERD symptoms in no time.