Foods to Eat and to Avoid for Acid Reflux

Foods to Eat and to Avoid for Acid Reflux

When you have acid reflux, it’s difficult to know what to eat and not to eat. Many otherwise healthy foods can be quite problematic and encourage acid reflux, leaving you confused with regards to what foods you should eat and what foods you should avoid in order to control the symptoms and manage the condition. While some foods like hot peppers, coffee or fermented dairy are known triggers for acid reflux for many people, others like tuna or peppermint may only affect few, making acid reflux quite an individual and difficult condition to manage.

What is acid reflux? Acid reflux occurs when stomach juices rise up into the esophagus, causing the inflammation of the esophagus lining and symptoms such as heartburn, regurgitation, bad, metallic or acidic taste in the mouth, coughing and even laryngospasms. Acid reflux can be an occasional occurrence in response to a particular food or circumstance that is upsetting for you. If it occurs regularly, then acid reflux is a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease, a medical condition-proper and needs to be addressed accordingly.

What to eat for acid reflux

Very often, acid reflux is caused by what you eat. Heavy foods, fried or fatty foods, spices, garlic and onions, cold meats, sodas etc. are common culprits, but did you know that broccoli, green tea and tomato juice can also cause stomach acidity and acid reflux? In reality, foods don’t have to be unhealthy to be bad for our stomach. They can have too much dietary fiber like beans or natural sulfur compounds that cause air like broccoli or cabbage.

They may contain a natural irritant like caffeine in cocoa, curcumin in turmeric or capsaicin in hot chili peppers. It is possible we are simply sensitive to a certain food or a particular constituent in that food and don’t respond well to it. Sometimes it’s about how much of a certain food we eat. For example, ginger can be great in small amounts (added to tea, for example), but can be devastating for our stomach when eaten in large amounts.

There are different reasons for why so many foods can trigger acid reflux. Just as important, it doesn’t have to be the same problematic food for everyone. I may get acid reflux from eating peppers, while for you pork roast may be a problematic food. We are all different and may respond differently to various foods. This being said, some foods are more likely to cause acid reflux than others and some are more likely to trigger it only in certain people. Read below to find out the most common foods to avoid for acid reflux.

Foods for acid reflux

What foods to avoid

1) Fermented dairy. Fermented dairy like hard cheeses (cow, sheep or goat cheese), soured milk or buttermilk, kefir, plain (sour) yogurt, sour cream are commonly bad for acid reflux. Whole milk and butter eaten in large amounts can worsen acid reflux too.

2) Pork, game and other heavy meats. Red meat in general is heavy on the stomach and many people experience gastroesophageal reflux after eating pork, venison, beef and even turkey (especially ground turkey meat). Pork, beef, sheep, turkey and even chicken liver is heavy and causes severe acid reflux.

3) Cold meats. Cold meats include everything from ham, sausages, bacon to smoked salmon. The reason they cause acid reflux is because they are often highly processed, contain additives, curing salts, are rich in fat (most are made from heavy meats like pork), are smoked etc.

4) Heavy foods, processed foods and fried foods. Pork roast, liver and onions, meat sauteed in butter, fried chicken, French fries, lentils made with butter, fish and chips, fried fish in general, pre-cooked meals, all sorts of pastry, sweet biscuits, candy, cakes and anything that is processed, fried, heavy or fatty will cause acid reflux.

5) Oily fish like tuna and salmon. Despite being otherwise extremely healthy, tuna and salmon are quite heavy on the stomach and cause acid reflux very often. The same healthy Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids that promote brain and cardiovascular health can worsen stomach acidity if intake is excessive (after all, they are still fats).

6) Coffee and alcohol, caffeinated and carbonated beverages. Both coffee and alcohol irritate the stomach and the esophagus, causing inflammation and triggering acid reflux. Moreover, they are bad for both gastritis and ulcer. Caffeinated and carbonated beverages are too.

7) Cocoa and chocolate, green tea. Cocoa and chocolate contain caffeine, theophylline and theobromine, three elements which are irritants for the stomach lining and generate acidity (read about the side effects of chocolate). Green tea, black tea and, to a lesser extent, white tea also cause acid reflux because of their caffeine content.

8) Citrus fruit and fruit juices. Citrus fruits (lemons, grapefruit, oranges etc.) and other fruits as well contain citric acid, or malic acid (apples, for example) and can cause acid reflux. Fruit juices are bad for acid reflux because they contain them too. Citric and malic acid irritate the stomach lining and work up the stomach which is why they trigger acidity.

9) Spices and herbs: peppers, ginger, turmeric, peppermint, spearmint etc. Both sweet and hot chili peppers are commonly bad for acid reflux. Turmeric can worsen acidity if eaten in excessive amounts (find out why turmeric is bad for you). Pepper and ginger are also potential irritants for the stomach and can worsen acid reflux. Peppermint and spearmint tend to relax the muscle the keeps stomach juices in a little too much, hence the reason they cause acidity.

10) Tomatoes and tomato juice and sauce. Tomatoes and the juice and sauce made from them are known to cause and worsen acid reflux and gastritis because they are acidic and acidic foods are bad for the stomach when eaten frequently or in large amounts.

11) Garlic, onions, leek, broccoli, cabbage and other onion and cabbage family vegetables. The reason they worsen stomach acidity is because they are rich in natural organosulfur compounds which cause stomach gas, bloating and encourage the escape of gastric juices into the esophagus.

12) Vegetables rich in dietary fiber like beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils. Dietary fiber is generally bad for both acid reflux and gastritis because it ferments and causes air. And when that air is eliminate, stomach juices often escape along with it, resulting in worsened acidity. While you can eat limited amounts of beans (how much you can actually eat depends on your individual tolerance of fiber), it’s better to avoid eating too much.

13) Canned or tinned foods. Canned tuna, salmon, mackerel, sardines and other fish are triggers for acid reflux. While canned tuna causes stomach acidity in all forms (in brine, olive oil sunflower oil or tomato sauce), canned mackerel or sardines are less likely to cause stomach acidity in brine, but are just as bad when canned in olive oil, sunflower oil or tomato sauces. See our Fish page for more information on the properties, health benefits and side effects of your favorite fish and seafood.

A lot of pre-cooked canned foods are possible triggers for the condition, especially heavier or oily foods or those rich in flavoring agents, spices or onions, garlic etc.
Canned pork, pork and beans, beef, even chicken and other pre-cooked canned meals can trigger or worsen acid reflux if heavy in oils, tomato sauce, onions, garlic, turmeric etc. Canned soups may cause stomach acidity if they contain certain flavoring agents, onions, garlic, tomato sauce, peppers etc. which may elicit such a response.

What foods to eat

What to eat for acid reflux? If you have acid reflux, eat simple and avoid problematic foods that worsen your acidity and focus on those foods that you know don’t bother you at all. As a general recommendation, avoid foods heavy in oil, spices, heavily seasoned and fried and even roasted foods. Opt for boiled, steamed or grilled food. For me, the following foods in particular are good for my acid reflux:

1) Lean chicken meat (except for liver) and turkey.
2) Green, leafy vegetables, especially spinach.
3) Rice and pasta, even whole wheat pasta and brown rice, as well as corn flour.
4) Root vegetables like potatoes, celeriac, sweet potatoes, carrots and zucchini.
5) Eggs, soft boiled or poached eggs.
6) Fruits: ripe bananas, pears, raspberries, figs, watermelon.
7) Crackers, soft pretzels, flat bread, toast.
8) Ricotta cheese, cottage cheese or fresh cow cheese (in limited amounts).
9) Walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds (very little).
10) Fish like aurata (gilt-head sea bream) or cod (eaten occasionally), always boiled.

Conclusion

Digestive health is a complex notion that should be considered individually and explored in order to attain balance. For acid reflux, foods particularly rich in dietary fiber, spicy foods, cold meats, heavy foods and quite a few others are to be avoided. At the same time, otherwise healthy foods like peppers, turmeric, tomato juice or ginger can cause acid reflux just as easily. It’s trial and error until we learn what foods to eat and what foods to avoid for acid reflux, especially considering that the foods that are good for others may be bad for us and vice versa.

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9 thoughts on “Foods to Eat and to Avoid for Acid Reflux”

    • Hello, JW. To my knowledge, regular herbal teas (chamomile, valerian, peppermint, St John’s wort, lemon balm etc.) have no caffeine. Whereas teas made from Camelia sinensis leaves are rather important sources of caffeine. And since caffeine acts as an irritant, drinking anything containing it has the potential to cause acid reflux. Black tea is highest in caffeine, followed by green tea and then white tea (all three being made from Camelia sinensis leaves). The more of these 3 teas your drink, the higher the caffeine intake and the more likely the side effects.

      Of course, caffeine content varies depending on several factors:
      1) Age of the leaves (apparently, younger leaves yield more caffeine)
      2) Processing (black tea is the most processed and incidentally the highest in caffeine)
      3) Steeping time (the longer you steep the tea leaves, the stronger the taste and the more caffeine and other biologically active elements will seep into the tea water).

      Some brands of green tea and black tea in particular are higher in caffeine than expected, while others are lower. Because of the varying content, it helps to read the label to find out the exact content of caffeine in the tea of your choice.
      And the reason why green tea is sometimes bad for acid reflux (and included in the list of foods to avoid for acid reflux) is because some people are just more sensitive to the effects of caffeine, of which green and related teas have plenty, although usually not as much as brewed coffee. Others may be more tolerant and experience little to no side effects. And for some people, the effects are correlated with the amount of green and related teas they drink. Hope this helps in explaining my reasons for checking green tea. Wishing you lots of health, JW!

  1. Good article because other sites suggest eating many things like sardines and curcumin, eggs, garlic, cabbage etc. that really are acidic…you are much more honest… I think split peas and chicken are probably safest bet for protein, brown rice, cucumbers, potatoes, bananas, eggs, carrots are ok…not sure about green beans…. Anyway, I am working out a safe diet as best I can as I have gastritis and acid reflux and IBS…just found out at hospital…so want to make safe decisions.

    • So happy to learn the article has helped you, Anton. I know from experience how difficult eating with acid reflux and gastritis can be. Probably the most important thing I’ve learnt is that not everyone reacts the same way to the same foods. While some foods are universally bad for acid reflux and gastritis (like citrus fruits, citrus juices, tuna or sardines canned in oil, turmeric and curcumin, spicy peppers), others may be more open to argument. Take green beans, cucumbers and bananas for example.

      I could eat all of them in small amounts when my gastritis and acid reflux were at their worst, without any side effects (of course I relied heavily on the basics like toast, white rice, chicken, crackers). But there are so many people that experience horrible acid reflux problems and gastritis upset if they eat bananas or cucumbers. And I’m guessing it could be the same for green beans. You really have to tell what works for you individually and avoid the foods that trigger your symptoms, even though other people with the same condition as you can eat them just fine. Like you said, you really have to work out the best diet for you and it takes some trying to figure it out. What also helps is to eat small amounts at once and never fill up on food or liquids as well as avoid lying down after eating until you’ve digested your food. Looking forward to hearing from you after you settle in with your diet and wishing you lots of health, Anton!

  2. What complete pile of bunk! Whoever came up with this obviously never had GERD because this list is 99% WRONG!

    I’ve suffered with GERD for eighteen years and for fifteen of those years I took large doses of prescription medications which did little more than wreck my liver, kidneys and God knows what else! In 2015 with my blood pressure and cholesterol going through the roof I began to re-evaluate what I was doing and why the doctors and prescription medications weren’t working. All I needed was a few changes in my diet and I no longer take prescription medication and only occasionally need a safe calcium carbonate antacid.

    Turmeric, chili peppers and kelp are the absolute best things we can eat. Get away from the processed grains, processed sugars and large evening meals! Eat a big stir-fry for breakfast loaded with fresh veggies, meat or egg protein and of course chilies, garlic, turmeric, kelp, cumin, ginger and black pepper. Dark green and leafy veggies like broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, mustard, Asian spinach, bok choy, Chinese cabbage and snow peas are paramount as is mixing in some color and balance with red and yellow bell peppers, Thai eggplant, carrots, purple eggplant, purple cabbage and squash. Vegetable and olive oils are killer, use only peanut oil unless you have a peanut allergy, then use safflower oil or at least a “cold pressed” alternative not derived from chemically laden GMO crops. Personally, I use only LouAna peanut oil for all my cooking and baking.

    For lunch and snacking throughout the day or in the evening, get rid of the junk food!!!! Banana, red grapes, raisins, cranberries, yogurt, nuts, etc. All far better for you than any processes snack foods!

    Another nonsense about GERD is consuming spices, acids and caffeine. Total BS! As I write this I’m on my forth cup of percolated coffee this morning and given the temperature outside, there’s most likely going to be two more cups in my very near future. What makes the difference is the stirfry I had for breakfast and that I don’t use paper coffee filters or K-cups. Yes, I use an old fashioned percolator; although, I also use a K-cup machine but only with re-usable filter cups that I fill myself with either Llava or Bustello espresso. Paper filters, including those inside the insanely expensive and incredibly wasteful K-cups, remove the oil from the coffee that is great for your blood pressure, cholesterol and stomach! Yup, no filters, no problem with coffee and GERD. Same thing with tea; get rid of the bag and just pour it through a metal strainer (I use a re-usable insert basket for the small drip coffee makers).

    Speaking of tea… One gallon of cold water; cut open 12 green tea bags and 8 black tea bags. Put them into the cold water and bring to a boil for five minutes then let it sit until it’s warm but won’t burn your skin. Pour through sieve into glass container. Add 3/4 cup RAW honey, 1/2 cup raw cane sugar or cane syrup along with the juice and pulp of six fresh lemons. Mix well, chill and cut 50% with water when drinking (IOW, the mixture is a concentrate so when diluted for consumption it makes 2 gallons) Have a 20-24 ounce glass of this every night before bed and see how much better you sleep and don’t wake up from GERD.

    Biggest things to avoid are all store-bought grain products (pasta noodles, bread, rolls, doughnuts, beagles, etc). Make your own pasta, bread and rolls with whole wheat and masa flours. No it doesn’t take long when you avoid all the nonsense from the “cooking is work” crowd. I make fresh noodles by hand without a mixer in less than 15 minutes. Same with my redneck version of naan bread and even whole wheat bread; they’re 30-60 minutes start to eat, not a whole day affair. Don’t believe the difference, mix up a batch of homemade pasta dough and you’ll find out how easily it digests and doesn’t sit like a lump of clay in your stomach … not to mention the wonderful taste!

    Back to the acid and spice thing, one of the best things to settle GERD is homemade hot & sour soup. You can use any hot pepper you like, I prefer the flavor of long-hots or serrano so that’s what I use. Chop a handful up and put into beef-chicken wonton broth along with a generous amount of chopped scallions and even some leeks. I boost the flavor on mine with some hard-fried bacon and ham being sure to leave some bacon grease in and scraping all those stuck-on bits of goodness from the bottom of the cast iron pan. Shot of sesame oil, handful of fresh garlic, black pepper, generous dose of turmeric and a good shot of soy sauce and I like about a half-pound of mushrooms in mine along with a handful of dried shrimp. Boil until the peppers are very tender, cut off the heat, let cool about 15 minutes and add a generous amount of white vinegar until you can really taste the bite of the vinegar. Have a bowl of this for dinner with only a small amount of rice noodles or homemade masa flour noodles and see how much better you feel as opposed to eating a big meal or processed foods. Yup, all the hot chili spice and acid vinegar does wonders to make your stomach feel great, and it’s incredibly healthy for you too.

    • Hi, Mark. I’ve read your comment a few times and I’m not sure what to make of it, honestly. I can’t believe you’re serious about indulging in coffee (4 to 6 cups a day!?), caffeinated green and black tea with lemon juice, organosulfur-rich vegetables, acidic vinegar and hot spices with GERD.

      Maybe you have been having such a difficult time with GERD because you have been eating so poorly for so long. 15 years really is a long time to not get a handle on your acid reflux and a bad diet would explain the related health problems (high cholesterol, high blood pressure). I’m thinking your previous diet was also the reason you were not responding to GERD medication – you know you still have to change your diet for the medication to help you, right?
      And now you went from one extreme to another – your current diet seems to be an excess of certain foods that have biologically active compounds that can act as irritants and cause GERD, gastritis and worsen these conditions. Take curcumin in turmeric, zingerone and gingerols in ginger, piperine in pepper, capsaicin in hot peppers, caffeine in coffee, green tea and black tea, acetic acid in vinegar, citric acid in lemons and so on. They all have irritant properties, especially when consumed in excess. And the first thing they’ll affect are mucous membranes such as the lining of the esophagus and stomach.

      Are you sure you’re actually feeling better with this diet? Do you feel it actually cured your condition (especially since you’re still taking antacids)? Or maybe you’ve grown so accustomed to the symptoms that you no longer know how digestive health feels like?

      Also, you do know that cured meats, including bacon and ham, have been recently shown to increase the risk of several cancers? There are studies on this. It’s not a good idea or healthy to eat the bits of fried bacon that get stuck on the bottom of the pan. Since you consider yourself a health-conscious person, I assume you know it’s healthier to eat meat that has not been processed in any way.

      Anyway, it’s not just me who is saying these foods are problematic for GERD, gastritis and other digestive conditions. There are many other people who have experienced the side effects of peppers, coffee, vinegar, lemon juice, turmeric etc. and find them unsuitable for GERD, gastritis and other digestive conditions (see the comments section on other articles on the blog if you’d like).
      Just because you think you’ve found the solution to your problem with an extreme diet which not even medical professionals agree with (see what doctors have to say about vinegar for acid reflux/GERD or about having 4 to 6 cups of coffee a day plus green and black tea), you cannot presume others to follow you and simply take for granted what you are saying.
      There’s nothing more for me to say than wish you lots of health and advise you to consult a doctor about your very specific diet.

    • Yes, fish is generally a very healthy food. But that doesn’t mean it’s all good. For example, the way in which it’s cooked can determine if it’s a source of benefits only, or also a source of side effects. For example, fried fish is typically a bad food to eat for GERD or acid reflux disease. No matter how healthy the fish is, frying it can lead to stomach juices and contents being regurgitated into the esophagus in GERD sufferers. A lot of canned fish, especially oily fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel etc., can cause acid reflux in GERD sufferers, if canned in oil (whether olive oil, sunflower oil or another type), lemon juice, tomato sauce – all trigger foods for acid reflux.

      Also, some types of fish are better for acid reflux, and some are, let’s say, not that good. For instance, light fish such as cod or aurata tend to elicit the least symptoms, so long as they’re eaten boiled, steamed, grilled or dry-roasted. Light fish in general is tolerated quite well. Whereas oily fish like tuna or salmon can feel heavier on the stomach even when cooked healthily, and cause stomach acidity. And yet oily fish are a wonderfully healthy food, usually rich in sought-after Omega-3 fatty acids. It’s just that they can be a little too much and people with acid reflux looking to control their symptoms and improve their condition may benefit more from eating lighter fish, at least for a while.

      I’d say it’s a matter of perspective: not all foods are all healthy all the time, in all forms and preparations. The choice of cooking method, the type of fish eaten, intake and frequency of intake can determine in what circumstances said fish is a source of benefits only, or also a source of side effects. Wishing you lots of health!

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