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 (read about what causes acid reflux). If it occurs regularly, then acid reflux is a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease, a medical condition-proper and needs to be addressed accordingly.
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 (read more about why ginger is bad for you). 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. As such, here are common foods to avoid for acid reflux:
1) Fermented dairy. Fermented dairy like hard cheeses (cow, sheep or goat cheese), sour milk or buttermilk, kefir, plain (sour) yogurt, sour cream are commonly bad for acid reflux. Whole milk and butter eaten in large amounts 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 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).
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.
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.