Acid Reflux Diet
The role of diet in gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is one of the most controversial topics in the heartburn realm. Below, you will discover the truth about acid reflux diet plans and what you should really be doing to reduce heartburn.
The Truth About Acid Reflux Diet Plans
Can a diet for acid reflux reduce heartburn? The research suggests that this is definitely the case (1), and that lifestyle changes including diet can significantly improve GERD and reduce medication required for its management. Without a doubt, a good acid reflux diet can reduce heartburn.
Most people think that an acid reflux diet consists of specific, “safe” foods and that is where the controversy lies. In fact, a recent review concluded that no definitive evidence exists that suggests certain foods or drinks are related to GERD (2). The reality is just because you found a food on an ever-popular “safe food list” does not mean you can eat it and not get heartburn.
The truth is that there are no real safe foods (as everyone is different) and that no single food has the same effect on everyone’s body. One example is one study found that having a high meat intake (typically considered “bad” or “unhealthy”) was associated with a lower risk of Barrett’s Esophagus (3). This is interesting as Barrett’s Esophagus is a condition brought about by GERD which increases the risk of esophageal cancer. This is doubly interesting as meat is typically not mentioned as a “good” food on acid reflux diet lists.
With that said, not all meat is the same. Other studies have found that eating a lot of red meat and processed meat was related to increased rates of certain esophageal diseases which are associated with acid reflux (4). This is possibly due to the high iron content of red meat (a strong oxidant) and sodium nitrate found in processed meat. By the way, sodium nitrate was recently deemed “unfit for human consumption” by the World Health Organization, yet is in nearly all processed colored meats, such as bacon, ham, salami, and roast beef among others.
This is just one example. Other studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids (found in oily fish) can be protective against esophageal diseases caused by GERD, yet you find “fatty fish” on acid reflux diet lists as a “do not eat” food for heartburn (3).
The Most Accurate Acid Reflux Diet
In light of present-day research, there are only a handful of foods you want to completely avoid:
- Spicy foods. Spicy foods are frequently associated with heartburn and do not offer any particular protective benefits against digestive disorders.
- Processed meat and trans-fatty acids. Processed meats and trans-fat are linked to higher rates of esophageal diseases (4). Given that GERD leads to esophageal diseases, these are something you want to avoid.
- Mint, Coffee, and Tobacco. These products all stimulate the release of stomach acid, which can cause heartburn.
- Alcohol – Irritates the stomach lining and is one of the top causes of heartburn. This should be left out of any acid reflux diet.
- Individual Foods. Everyone has certain foods that give them heartburn, and these are foods you want to avoid on an acid reflux diet. Make a list of foods that give you heartburn and avoid them in the future. Just because a list says oranges should not be on an acid reflux diet does not mean you should eat them. If an otherwise healthy fruit or vegetable does not give you heartburn, there is no harm in eating it.
Foods and Supplements That May Bolster Your Acid Reflux Diet Plan
In addition to avoiding the foods above and figuring out what bothers you in particular, there are also a few things you might want to add to your diet for acid reflux. Here they are:
- Pineapple and Papaya. These two fruits contain bromelain and papain respectively, two powerful proteases. These are digestive enzymes which help your body break down protein. These may be particularly beneficial for those on acid-reducing medications. The body’s chief protein-digesting enzyme is pepsin. Pepsin is only active in very acidic environments. This is one reason why many acid reflux medications cause constipation and upset stomach. Adding pineapple and papaya to your diet can help your body digest protein, which may reduce acid reflux and alleviate some digestive side effects of medications. Find out more in our article: Benefits of Pineapple.
- Iodized salt. Iodine is a key nutrient, and insufficient iodine intake leads to hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is associated with acid reflux. If you have low levels of iodine, you may be getting acid reflux as a result. The typical American or Western diet is low on iodine, which is why all salts used to be iodized. However, now that uniodized sea salt has become very popular, many people are not getting adequate amounts of iodine in their diet. While adding iodized salt into your diet will not cure your heartburn over night, it may make a difference for you over a several month period as levels are restored to optimum amounts. If you cannot have salt in your diet, you can consider adding a very low dose iodine supplement (barring hyperthyroidism). You can find out more in our article: Iodine Supplements.
- Fish Oil. Like iodine, the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil are essential to an optimally functioning body. This will not cure your acid reflux over night, but can definitely make a big difference over a several month period. Some people report that fish oil actually gives them heartburn, but 99% of people will actually be able to get around this just by refrigerating it! Find out more in our article: Fish Oil and Heartburn.
Acid Reflux Diet Conclusion
After looking at the research, making a list of foods that are “safe” to eat is pointless and potentially dangerous. Many foods which can protect against the harmful effects of GERD, such as fatty fish and white meats, are often not put on “safe lists” despite their protective effects. Additionally, many fruits and vegetables which are indicated as foods to avoid may actually be beneficial for heartburn protection (3).
The harsh truth is that there are only a handful foods which you will want to avoid on an acid reflux diet (listed above). If you still experience regular heartburn, try out these heartburn remedies as they can help cut down heartburn as well. Additionally, consider eating pineapple or papaya with your largest meal of the day, as well as incorporating iodized salt (or low-dose iodine supplement) and fish oil into your regime, as these simple dietary additions can significantly help out your acid reflux as well.
1. Nowak M, Büttner P, Harrison S, Daniell K, Raasch B, Speare R. Effectiveness of lifestyle measures in the treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease – a case series. Ther Clin Risk Manag. 2006 Sep;2(3):329-34.
2. Festi, D., et al. Body weight, lifestyle, dietary habits and gastroesophageal reflux disease. World J Gastroenterol. 2009 Apr 14;15(14):1690-701.
3. Kubo A, Block G, Quesenberry CP Jr, Buffler P, Corley DA. Effects of dietary fiber, fats, and meat intakes on the risk of Barrett’s esophagus. Nutr Cancer. 2009;61(5):607-16.
4. O’Doherty MG, Cantwell MM, Murray LJ, Anderson LA, Abnet CC. Dietary fat and meat intakes and risk of reflux esophagitis, Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal adenocarcinoma. Int J Cancer. 2011 Mar 31. [Epub ahead of print].