Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid flows upward from your stomach into your esophagus. Reflux is often caused by a weak or damaged lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Your LES exerts pressure on the opening between your esophagus and your stomach to keep stomach acid contained within your stomach. If you have a weak or damaged LES, stomach acid may leak into your esophagus and cause heartburn or other reflux symptoms. Additionally, your stomach may overproduce acid, which makes acid entering your esophagus more likely.
There are many ways to treat acid reflux, including diet and lifestyle modifications, natural remedies, over-the-counter medications, prescription medications, and even surgeries.
Among common dietary recommendations for acid reflux is to include more alkaline foods in your diet, which help neutralize stomach acid and provide relief.
A food’s pH indicates its acid level. Foods with a lower pH are more acidic, whereas foods with a higher pH are more alkaline. The pH scale ranges from 0-14, and for reference, water is a 7 on the pH scale, which is considered neutral. The human stomach is low in pH, given that it is very acidic. Your stomach maintains a pH of about 3.5. As your stomach digests food, it produces gastric acid (stomach acid), which is necessary to break down the food you consume.
While the human body is designed to naturally regulate stomach pH and maintain a narrow range, eating foods that are high in acid appears to increase acid reflux symptoms, while eating foods that are low in acid (also called alkaline foods) helps offset strong stomach acid and can relieve acid reflux symptoms. Below we discuss various alkaline foods and their potential to alleviate your acid reflux symptoms.
Bananas for Acid Reflux
Bananas are one of the most well-known alkaline foods. Bananas are also a good source of fiber, which is also beneficial for acid reflux management. Bananas also help coat the esophageal lining, which can soothe an esophagus that has been irritated by stomach acid. If reflux does occur, the coating also helps to decrease the damage the acid does. Include bananas on your morning whole-wheat toast for both the alkaline and fiber benefits for your reflux.
Apples for Acid Reflux
Apples are another low-acid fruit to include in your acid reflux diet. Try adding diced apples to your morning oatmeal for another high-fiber, low-acid breakfast idea.
Melons for Acid Reflux
Melons are alkaline, and high in water content, which helps neutralize and dilute the acid in your stomach. Cantaloupe and honeydew are the least acidic melons. Watermelon is another great option that is also very high in water.
Avocados are also low acid fruits. Avocados, like bananas, coat and protect the esophageal lining.
Vegetables for Acid Reflux
Green vegetables, including asparagus, spinach, kale, and brussels sprouts are all highly alkaline, as well as high in fiber and water making them a great choice for your acid reflux diet.
Cauliflower is another alkaline vegetable that helps to neutralize stomach acid.
Fennel, an alkaline vegetable in the carrot family that has a licorice-like flavor, has also been shown to help soothe an upset stomach, and may help relieve heartburn, as well as other reflux symptoms.
Starches for Acid Reflux
Potatoes are another low acid food. Try baking or roasting potatoes with a small amount of oil, as frying or adding too much oil will increase the fat content of your meal and may trigger reflux.
Oatmeal is another alkaline food. Oatmeal may absorb some stomach acid to further neutralize the stomach. Additionally, oatmeal is a high-fiber food that promotes optimal digestive health.
Brown rice is another alkaline whole grain. Pair brown rice with cauliflower and salmon for an easy alkaline dinner.
Lean Protein for Acid Reflux
Skinless chicken is another low acid food and great staple in your acid reflux diet. High-fat foods trigger reflux, so limit your overall fat intake if you suffer from heartburn. Prepare chicken and other lean proteins by grilling, baking, or broiling to limit adding fats during cooking.
Fish is a great way to get healthy fats in a low-acid meal. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish are beneficial for many systems within your body. As with chicken, prepare fish in a way that does not add additional fat. Additionally, avoid adding lemon (which is acidic) or heavy spices or seasonings, which may trigger reflux symptoms.
Almonds are an alkaline nut that also contain fiber. Like fish, almonds contain healthy fatty acids that your body needs. Avoid pairing nuts with other high fats foods to limit total fat consumption at one time.
Acidic foods exist on the opposite end of the pH scale from beneficial alkaline foods. Acidic foods trigger acid reflux, which can cause heartburn, hiccups, dry cough, sore throat, hoarseness, and other reflux symptoms.
Acidic foods include citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and limes), pineapples, kiwis, and tomatoes.
Your Acid Reflux
While many individuals who suffer with acid reflux report similar triggers, everyone’s experience with reflux is slightly different. One of the best ways to learn how to properly treat your own reflux is to pay more attention to what makes you feel good, and what doesn’t.
Keep a log of the foods you eat and the symptoms you experience and start to gather data and see if you can identify patterns in your symptoms. Oftentimes correlations will begin to appear between foods and symptoms, which helps you identify which foods you should include and exclude from your diet.
While shifting from a more acidic to a more alkaline diet will likely help you find relief, there are many other dietary changes you can make to further improve your acid reflux symptoms. For more ideas of ways to improve your acid reflux diet, read Best Foods for Acid Reflux blog.
If you are looking for more specific guidance to find your best eating pattern, our team of dietitians and nutritionists is here to help you build the acid reflux diet that can improve and even eliminate your heartburn symptoms!
Liz has been reading nutrition labels since she learned how to read. Growing up with severe peanut and tree nut allergies she learned that it’s important to know what you are putting into your body. She made her first big lifestyle change as a freshman in high school, when she decided to become a vegetarian. However, it wasn’t until she took a food class in Italy as part of a study abroad program in college that it clicked in her mind that she wanted to make food and nutrition her career. Liz graduated from Penn State University in 2015 with a bachelor's degree in Nutrition, as well as a bachelor's degree in Marketing. She completed her dietetic internship with Aramark in Philadelphia, and her master's degree at Northeastern University shortly after.