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Foods to Avoid for GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease)

Written by Daisy Whitbread, MScN
Foods to Avoid for GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease)

GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) is a disease where acid from the stomach escapes into the esophagus leading to pain near the stomach or chest. Scientific studies still have not found conclusive evidence if GERD can be controlled by dietary changes, but lifestyle changes are often recommended as a first line of defense. (Ref)

Finding the right GERD diet for you will involve experimentation, and it is likely to be something different from person to person. Foods which can trigger acid reflux include fatty fried foods, chocolate, coffee, tea, sodas, and onions. In addition to avoiding those foods, other lifestyle factors such as weight loss and eating smaller meals can help alleviate GERD. Below are the details on foods which trigger acid reflux, and more information on possible GERD complications.

#1: Fatty Foods and Meals
Two group of study participants where given meals of equal volume, protein, and carbohydrate. The group with a more fatty meal experienced higher stomach acidity, and more reflux. Limiting high fat foods would be avised to reduce reflux symptoms. Read more about the study. List of High Fat Foods.

#2: Chocolate
Chocolate not only increases acidity in the stomach, but can also relax the sphincter (door) between your stomach and espophogus, leading to even stronger acid reflux symptoms. It is sad news for chocolate lovers, but limiting/avoiding chocolate when you have GERD will probably help you feel better. Read more about the study.

#3: Coffee, Tea, and Caffeine
Both coffee and tea are acidic and can increase symtpoms of reflux. Caffeine is also thought to contribute to increase reflux, however, the actual effect of pure caffeine may be limited.(Ref) Read more about the study.

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#4: Beer, Wine, and Alcohol
Most alcoholic drinks are acidic, and alcohol appears to increase symptoms of acid reflux. Particularly if consumed in large amounts. Read more about the study.

#5: Carbonated Drinks and Sodas
With carbonated beverages generally being acidic, and being able to increase the "volume" of fluid in the stomach, it is worth "testing" carbonated beverages to see how they affect your acid reflux. Studies are not conclusive if carbonated beverages make reflux worse, and they may even make reflux better. Read more about the study.

#6: Onions
In a controlled study, patients who already had acid reflux felt a significant increase in reflux symptoms after eating onions with a hamburger, vs those who simply ate a plain hamburger. Try avoiding onions to see if your reflux symptoms improve. Read more about the study.

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Other Factors Which Affect Gastrointenstinal Reflux Disease (GERD)

  • Overweight and Obesity - Being overweight or obese is highly associated with GERD, possibly due to the stomach having less space.
  • Smoking - While smoking often accompanies GERD, theories as to why this is so are few, and smoking being a risk factor is controversial.
  • Moderate Exercise - Moderate but not execessive exercise can help GERD.
  • High Fiber Low Fat Diet - A high fiber low fat diet is generally seen as a good diet for preventing GERD.
  • Small meal sizes - Keeping meal sizes small theoretically keeps the stomach from being too full and releasing acidic liquid. Portion size is still controversial.
  • Not eating 3 hours before laying down or sleeping - Abstaining from eating or drinking (except water) before laying down or bed can help assure acid is not being created and released by the stomach.

Other complications with GERD

  • Low Stomach Acidity - GERD is typically treated with over the counter medications that lower stomach acid. Over many years this can lead to the stomach being permanently low in acid, which can have negative health consequences such as increased chance of infections. Use of medications should be limited, and lifestyle changes (such as weight loss and diet) are recommended.
  • Hiatal Hernia - Hatial Hernia is characterized by the stomach protruding into the chest cavity. This condition can vary, but can lead to acid reflux, as well as chest pain, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath.
  • Chest Pain - Chest pain can be a symptom of GERD and can mimic a heart attack. Getting checked for a heart attack at the hospital is recommended to be sure.
  • Laryngopharyngeal Reflux (LPR) and Extraesophageal Reflux Disease (EERD) - Both LPR and EERD can occur when too much stomach acid affects the esophagus leading to coughing and a hoarse voice. These complications are good incentive to start using acid reducing medications in the short term.
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Data Sources and References

  1. Body weight, lifestyle, dietary habits and gastroesophageal reflux disease
  2. A Comparison of High and Low Fat Meals on Postprandial Esophageal Acid Exposure
  3. Chocolate and Heartburn: Evidence of Increased Esophageal Acid Exposure after Chocolate Ingestion
  4. Caffeine and Acid Reflux
  5. Coffee and Gastrointestinal Function: Facts and Fiction: A Review
  6. Hiatal Hernia and Acid Reflux Frequency Predict Presence and Length of Barrett's Esophagus
  7. Systematic review: the effects of carbonated beverages on gastro-oesophageal reflux disease
  8. The Effect of Raw Onions on Acid Reflux and Reflux Symptoms
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