Acid reflux happens when stomach acid flows upward into your esophagus. Occasional acid reflux is common, and most individuals experience heartburn associated with acid reflux from time to time. However, when acid reflux occurs regularly or involves a large amount of acid, it becomes a real problem that can have lasting impacts on your digestive health.
Acid reflux is frequently caused by a weak or damaged lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which is the body part that connects your esophagus to your stomach. A strong, healthy LES closes after your food enters your stomach, which keeps the food and your stomach acid contained within your stomach. A weak LES does not close tightly and allows acid from your stomach to leak into your esophagus, which causes heartburn.
Additionally, if your body produces higher amounts of stomach acid, that acid is more likely to travel from your stomach into your esophagus, making you more likely to experience acid reflux. Controlling the acid in your stomach is the best way to control acid reflux symptoms.
Fortunately, what you eat plays a significant role in controlling acid reflux and is often the first line of defense in treating your condition. You food choices impact the amount of acid your stomach produces. Choosing “stomach friendly” foods will help alleviate your symptoms and allow you to feel your best.
In general, experts recommend maintaining a well-balanced, low-fat diet for optimal acid reflux symptom control. Below we break down what a well-balanced diet looks like for someone with acid reflux.
Fruits for Acid Reflux
Most fruits are a healthy choice if you suffer from acid reflux. Bananas, melons, and other non-citrus fruits are all healthy parts of a well-balanced diet.
- Bananas are alkaline fruits, meaning their pH is high and offsets the low pH of stomach acid, which makes them a smart choice.
- Melons are also alkaline, and extremely high in water content, which helps neutralize and dilute the acid in the stomach.
- Make sure to limit citrus fruits, which include oranges, lemons, and grapefruits, as well as pineapple and kiwi. These fruits are all high in acid and can make symptoms worse.
Vegetables for Acid Reflux
Because vegetables are low in fat, most veggies do not trigger excess acid production. Including a variety of vegetables is key to making sure you are getting the fiber, vitamins, and minerals your body needs daily.
- High water content vegetables including leafy greens, lettuce, and celery are easy to digest, which makes them an excellent choice.
- High-fiber green vegetables including asparagus, broccoli, and green beans are also great to include for optimal digestive health.
- Cauliflower is an alkaline vegetable that may help to neutralize acid in the stomach.
- Root vegetables, including carrots, turnips, and parsnips, are also high in fiber and a powerful addition to your diet.
- Fennel, a 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 reflux symptoms.
- Be sure to avoid adding garlic and/or onion when cooking, as these vegetables often exacerbate acid reflux symptoms.
- Tomatoes and tomato products are high in acid and should also be avoided, especially in large quantities.
Complex Carbohydrates for Acid Reflux
A high-fiber diet has been linked to a decreased risk of acid reflux. Including more complex carbohydrates, mainly in the form of whole grains, which are packed with fiber, will help optimize your digestive health.
- Incorporate oatmeal into your breakfast to get fiber first thing in the morning. Add fresh fruit to your oatmeal for extra fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
- Include whole-grain breads and tortillas when making sandwiches or wraps to boost fiber at lunch.
- Switch from white rice to brown rice and white pasta to whole-wheat pasta to pack more fiber into your meals.
- Add potatoes and sweet potatoes to your diet to provide a healthy dose of fiber in a low-acid package.
- To get a dose of fiber at a snack try plain, air-popped popcorn. Avoid heavily buttered or seasoned popcorn, which may irritate your stomach.
Lean Proteins for Acid Reflux
Lean meats are low in fat and help maintain normal stomach acid production.
- Include chicken, turkey, and fish in your weekly meal rotation. Make sure to remove the skin to decrease the overall fat content. Prepare lean proteins by grilling, baking, or broiling to limit adding fats during cooking.
- Egg whites are another great protein source. They are low in fat and will not trigger excess stomach acid buildup. The higher fat content in egg yolks may slow your digestion and exacerbate your reflux symptoms, so stick to whites for optimal digestion.
- Beans are a dense source of protein for vegetarians and vegans. Their high fiber content is also beneficial for reducing acid reflux and promoting digestive health.
- Tofu is another great plant-based protein, which is low-fat and will not irritate your reflux. As with lean meats, prepare tofu by grilling, baking, or broiling to limit adding fats during cooking.
Healthy Fats for Acid Reflux
Healthy fats, including the fats found in avocados, nuts, seeds, and oils are your best bet for consuming fats that will not make acid reflux symptoms worse. Large amounts of fat slow your digestion, which causes food to stay in your stomach longer and can trigger reflux symptoms. Additionally, high fat foods cause the LES to relax and allow acid to flow back into your esophagus.
- Include oils such as olive, sesame, peanut, flaxseed, and walnut for a dose of healthy fats.
- Incorporate a variety of nuts and seeds to help increase your healthy fat intake. Nuts are an alkaline food, which helps to offset the acidity of your stomach.
- Substitute unsaturated fats, including olive or avocado oil in place of saturated or trans fats, including butter or margarine to improve your symptoms.
- Stay mindful of your portion sizes even when it comes to healthy fats, as too much of any fat type may irritate your stomach.
Water is the best beverage for acid reflux. While it may seem like a boring choice, many other drinks make symptoms worse. Alcohol and caffeine both increase stomach acid production, and carbonation causes gas and burping, which can also make reflux worse.
- Stick with water for optimal digestive health.
- Coconut water also promotes pH balance that may help control acid reflux.
- If you prefer a warm beverage, decaffeinated herbal teas are another option to boost your fluid intake.
- Broth-based soups also contain fluid that may help to dilute and weaken the acid in your stomach.
Natural Remedies for Acid Reflux
While modifying your diet will have a significant impact on your acid reflux, natural remedies may further improve symptoms and help you achieve relief.
- Ginger is a naturally alkaline and anti-inflammatory food, which makes it a great treatment for acid reflux. Try sipping ginger tea or adding sliced ginger root to food or beverages. Chewing on dried ginger may also help relieve symptoms but be sure to check the label for added sugars, which should be limited for overall health.
- Licorice and chamomile are also used to relieve acid reflux symptoms. However, some natural and herbal remedies may interfere with medications prescribed by your doctor, so it is best to consult your medical team before starting any supplements.
- Milk is often thought to help relieve heartburn and can act as a buffer within the stomach. Choose nonfat milk, when possible, as the fat in milk may cause the opposite effect. Consuming nonfat or low-fat yogurt may also help relieve acid reflux symptoms, while providing your digestive system with beneficial probiotics. If you are lactose-intolerant, this is not a solution we recommend.
- Many individuals also believe that drinking apple cider vinegar helps alleviate acid reflux symptoms. While there is not enough research for this remedy to be proven, it may help relieve your symptoms. Please note that for the health of your esophagus, if you do try this remedy, do so by diluting a small amount of apple cider vinegar in a mug of warm water and sipping it with a meal or snack, not on an empty stomach.
- While the general recommendation is to avoid citrus fruits, a small amount of lemon juice diluted in warm water with honey is alkalizing for the stomach and may improve acid reflux symptoms. Additionally, the added honey contains natural antioxidants to help maintain the health of your cells.
What you eat is important, but how you eat also plays a significant role in your acid reflux management.
- One of the best things you can do for your acid reflex is to learn your own triggers. Pay close attention to which foods make you feel good, and which foods make your symptoms worse. One great exercise is to keep a log of what foods you eat and what symptoms you experience. This provides beneficial insight into your personal triggers and helps you identify which foods you should include in or exclude from your diet.
- Reducing portion size may help alleviate acid reflux symptoms. When your stomach is filled, the amount of acid needed to digest the high quantity of food increases. This often results in more acid backflow into your esophagus, causing you discomfort. Eating smaller, more frequent meals will help your body get the nutrients it needs each day, without overloading your digestive system at any one time.
- In addition to eating smaller portions, eating more slowly and thoroughly chewing your food helps your body regulate digestion. Try placing your fork or spoon down between bites and focusing on chewing each bite fully before taking another. This decreased pace allows your stomach to keep up with your eating rate and optimize digestion.
- Separate your food and fluid to reduce the volume in the stomach at one time. Try eating and drinking at separate times. Specifically, try to drink most of your fluids between meals, not with meals, to avoid overloading the stomach.
- Experts also recommend eating your biggest meals in the morning and midday, rather than the evening, to avoid having a full stomach later into the night. Additionally, stop eating within two to three hours of laying down to go to bed. When your body is horizontal, it is easier for your stomach acid to flow back into your esophagus and make reflux worse. Allowing your body time to fully digest your last meal or snack before laying down for bed, or even a nap, or to watch a show, is one of the simplest ways to prevent stomach acid from going where it does not belong.
Foods To Avoid
While many foods are beneficial to prevent or ease symptoms of acid reflux, many foods trigger reflux symptoms. High fat foods including fried foods, fatty meats, processed snack foods, and desserts, all slow your digestion and relax your LES, which can exacerbate acid reflux symptoms. Acidic fruits and vegetables, including citrus fruits and tomato products, also cause an increase in acid, which causes heartburn. Garlic, onions, and spicy foods are also triggers for many people, as well as chocolate and mint. When it comes to beverages, alcohol, caffeine, and carbonation can all trigger reflux symptoms. Experts recommend that if you suffer from acid reflux, you should limit your intake of these beverages whenever possible. For more details on foods to avoid and why, read our Worst Foods for Acid Reflux blog.
While many dietary changes play a role in neutralizing stomach acid and controlling acid reflux symptoms, there is no single diet that has been proven to prevent acid reflux all together. Maintaining a well-balanced, low-fat diet is your best bet for controlling symptom. Using the tips above will help you find and maintain relief from your acid reflux symptoms.
However, everyone is different, and deserves to find out what works best for them! 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.