Foods to Avoid for GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease)

Foods to Avoid for GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease)

GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) is a condition in which acid from the stomach escapes into the esophagus leading to pain near the stomach or chest. Scientific studies still have not found conclusive evidence that GERD can be controlled by dietary changes, but diet and lifestyle changes are often recommended as a first line of defense. (1)

Finding the right GERD diet for you will involve experimentation, and it is likely to be 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 symptoms.

Below are the details of foods that can trigger acid reflux, and more information on possible GERD complications.

List of Foods to Avoid for GERD

1 Fatty Foods and Meals
Bucket of Fried Chicken
Two groups of study participants were given meals of equal volume, protein, and carbohydrate. The group with a more fatty meal experienced higher stomach acidity and more reflux. (2) Limiting high-fat foods would be advised to reduce reflux symptoms. List of High Fat Foods.
2 Chocolate
Chocolate not only increases acidity in the stomach but can also relax the sphincter (valve) between your stomach and esophagus, leading to stronger acid reflux symptoms. (3) It is sad news for chocolate lovers, but limiting/avoiding chocolate when you have GERD will probably help you feel better.
3 Coffee, Tea, and Caffeine
A cup of tea
Both coffee and tea are acidic and can increase symptoms of reflux. (4) It is not known how much of this is due to the caffeine in such beverages, as there is evidence that decaffeinated coffee also causes GERD. (5)
4 Beer, Wine, and Alcohol
A glass of wine
Most alcoholic drinks are acidic, and alcohol appears to increase symptoms of acid reflux. Particularly when consumed in large amounts. (6)
5 Carbonated Drinks and Sodas
Soft Drinks
Carbonated beverages are generally acidic and are able to increase the "volume" of fluid in the stomach. It is therefore worth testing how carbonated beverages affect your acid reflux. Studies about carbonated beverages and reflux are not conclusive. (7)
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. (8)

Other Factors Affecting Gastrointestinal Reflux Disease (GERD)

  • Overweight and Obesity - Being overweight or obese is strongly associated with GERD, possibly due to the stomach having less space.
  • Smoking - While smoking often accompanies GERD, why this is not fully understood.
  • Moderate Exercise - Moderate but not excessive 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 prevent GERD.

GERD Complications

  • 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 an increased chance of infections. The use of medications should be limited, and lifestyle changes (such as weight loss and diet) are recommended.
  • Hiatal Hernia - Hiatal 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 Extra-esophageal 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 a good incentive to start using acid-reducing medications in the short term.

MyFoodData provides free nutrition data tools and articles to help you organize and understand the foods you eat.

Create a free account to get nutrition facts on recipes and meals, track foods, and set custom targets.

Data Sources and References

  1. Body weight, lifestyle, dietary habits and gastroesophageal reflux disease. World J Gastroenterol. 2009 Apr 14; 15(14): 1690–1701.
  2. 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. Coffee and Gastrointestinal Function: Facts and Fiction: A Review
  5. Gastric acid secretion and lower-esophageal-sphincter pressure in response to coffee and caffeine.
  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