Heartburn creates a painful burning sensation that spreads through your chest and can even travel into the back of your throat and makes it next to impossible to comfortably get to sleep.
It’s a common symptom of acid reflux, which is when stomach acid travels out the top of your stomach and into your esophagus. Think of it as driving in the wrong direction on a one-way street. Whether you struggle with occasional heartburn or have been diagnosed with chronic acid reflux, known as GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease, modifying your diet is your first and best line of defense.
Which foods should you eat if you're suffering from acid reflux?
While certain foods help avoid and improve acid reflux, some can make it worse. A great way to take charge of what you eat and when is using a meal kit delivery service that can help you plan out your meals.
Oatmeal is a whole grain, so it’s high in fiber. Fiber helps you feel full, which means fiber-rich foods are tough to overeat and you typically don’t need a large portion to satisfy your hunger.
Eating more filling fiber foods is important because overeating can trigger acid reflux. When you overdo it at mealtime, your stomach stretches beyond its normal size and creates extra pressure that can force food and acid out of your stomach and back into your esophagus.
No time to cook oatmeal for breakfast? Some meal delivery services like HelloFresh have heat-and-eat breakfast items, like individual oatmeal cups, that can be added to your order for healthy and fuss-free breakfasts. If you don't like oatmeal, other whole grains, like brown rice or quinoa, are good sources of fiber and offer the same benefits.
2. Leafy greens
Eating more leafy greens may help you shield yourself against the burn of stomach acid. Leafy greens are a good source of fiber, but they also contain a lot of water. Foods with a high water content help dilute stomach acid so it’s less likely to creep back up on you and make you uncomfortable.
Leafy greens to try include spinach, any variety of lettuce, kale, swiss chard, arugula, collard greens, and bok choy. Enjoy them in fresh salads, stir-frys, soups, or saute them on their own for a nutritious side dish.
3. Milk or yogurt
When your acid reflux flares up, reaching for a serving of dairy may help put out the burn and soothe your stomach. Scientists have found milk acts as an antacid and helps neutralize stomach acid for immediate relief from heartburn.
High-fat foods slow down digestion and can make acid reflux worse, so choose low-fat milk and yogurt. Sugary foods can also increase your discomfort, so choose plain milk and yogurt and skip flavored dairy which usually contains lots of added sugar.
4. Apple cider vinegar
Reaching for an acidic ingredient like vinegar may seem the exact opposite of what you need when your stomach acid is giving you trouble, but apple cider vinegar (ACV) is an old-school remedy for heartburn.
Many people swear by a daily dose of ACV for digestive health, but there’s no scientific evidence to support how it works so you’ll have to take their word for it.
If you try it, start with one teaspoon of ACV a day and make sure you dilute the vinegar in a glass of water before drinking. If the taste is hard to stomach, try adding a bit of honey. You can also mix ACV into vinaigrettes to toss with your leafy greens.
Melons, like watermelon, honeydew, can cantaloupe, are high-water content foods. Enjoying more melon can help dilute stomach acid and keep you hydrated.
Most produce, including melon, are alkalizing foods. That means the pH or the amount of acid is little to none. Eating more alkaline foods can further help neutralize an overly acidic stomach environment.
Try melon in fruit salad, smoothies, salads, or blended with water and chia seeds for a refreshing drink known as agua fresca that originates in Central America.
6. Root vegetables
Root vegetables include sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, and parsnips. Root vegetables are another excellent source of fiber. They also contain a variety of antioxidants that can benefit overall health. You can roast or mash most root vegetables or add them to soups, salads, stews, and stir fry dinners.
Onions also fall into the root vegetable family, but they should be avoided to help manage your case of acid reflux. Onions can turn up the dial on stomach acid and increase reflux symptoms.
7. Non-starchy vegetables
All vegetables that aren’t considered root vegetables or leafy greens fall into the non-starchy vegetable category. This includes celery, cucumber, bell peppers, asparagus, cabbage, eggplant, radishes, mushrooms, and more.
Non-starchy vegetables contain water and fiber that can help counteract acid reflux symptoms. Most vegetables are alkaline in pH and easily digested. Some people get gassy from eating cruciferous veggies, like broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts, so you may want to limit those if they don’t agree with you.
If you don’t have much time to cook or you feel like you’re always eating the same vegetables, a veggie-focused meal delivery service can help you get your fill.
8. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are an excellent lean protein that’s easy to digest and doesn’t contain any stomach irritants. Including a lean protein like chicken breast with each meal helps you feel full. When you pair a protein with fiber, like vegetables or whole grains, you’ll feel even more satisfied.
Keep them lean by preparing chicken breasts with a low-fat cooking method, such as baking, grilling, steaming, or sauteing. If you get tired of eating chicken, other lean protein options include turkey breast, seafood, tofu, and eggs.
Meal delivery services like Home Chef let you customize proteins in meals. The ability to swap or double the amount of protein you receive can help make sure you include enough lean protein in your meals.
Fennel is technically a non-starchy vegetable, but it’s worth talking about on its own because of its powerful digestive health benefits. Fennel has been used for many years in traditional medicine practices to improve digestive problems.
You can use raw fennel in salads or cook it in soups and stir-frys. Some people find immediate relief from reflux with fennel seeds. Fennel seeds can be steeped in hot water to make tea or chewed.
When it comes to helping manage your acid reflux, what you drink is just as important as what you eat. Water is the best drink you can choose to minimize symptoms and flare-ups. Water helps dilute stomach acid and doesn’t contain anything that can irritate the lining of your digestive system.
Many drinks, including caffeinated coffee and teas, carbonated beverages, fruit juices, and alcoholic drinks irritate the stomach and can make acid reflux worse. Plus, carbonated drinks like soda and seltzer increase gas and make you burp, which only adds to your digestive discomfort when you’re dealing with reflux.
Which foods should you avoid if you're suffering from acid reflux?
Avoiding foods known to trigger or worsen acid reflux can also help manage your symptoms. Here are 5 foods to avoid to improve your acid reflux:
1. Citrus fruits & juices
Citrus, including oranges, grapefruit, lemons, and limes, are high-acid foods that can make your stomach environment more acidic. Too much acid in your stomach can cause your acid reflux to flare up.
2. Tomatoes and tomato-based foods
Tomatoes are also high in acid, so raw tomatoes and tomato-based dishes tend to cause acid reflux. Avoid meals like pasta with tomato sauce, tomato soup, gazpacho, and pizza. Don’t forget about tomato-based condiments, like salsa, ketchup, and barbecue sauce, which can also worsen your reflux symptoms.
3. Fried food
As mentioned above, high-fat foods worsen acid reflux. Fried foods, like fried chicken, buffalo wings, french fries, and onion rings, are high in fat and can be extra greasy which is discomfort waiting to happen for individuals struggling with acid reflux.
4. Spicy food
The chili peppers used to bring the heat to chili, salsa, and sauces irritate your esophagus and stomach the same way they “burn” your mouth. which will make your reflux symptoms more painful.
Chocolate contains caffeine, which triggers acid reflux, as well as plant compounds that relax the opening, or sphincter, between the bottom of the esophagus and the top of the stomach. When this sphincter is relaxed, stomach acid and partially digested food are more likely to flow backward and create a burning sensation.
The Bottom Line
The foods you eat can help or hinder your acid reflux symptoms. Vegetables and whole grains can help prevent acid reflux symptoms and low-fat milk or yogurt may help improve reflux symptoms once they’ve started. Balanced meals that include lean protein, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are the best choice to minimize uncomfortable heartburn and other symptoms of acid reflux.
Acidic foods, including citrus and tomatoes, spicy foods, fried or greasy food, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, and fizzy drinks can make acid reflux worse. If you’re experiencing acid reflux symptoms more days than not, try avoiding these foods, eating smaller portions, and not eating before bedtime to see if your symptoms get better. You should also speak with your healthcare provider to rule out other causes.