Fiber is a healthy substance that everyone should include in their diet. Fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes all contain fiber, which helps optimize digestion. Studies have shown that fiber helps:
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Reduce the risk for diabetes, heart disease, and cancers
- Control cholesterol and blood sugar
- Relieve constipation
Fiber may also prove beneficial for acid reflux!
Dietary fiber is an indigestible component found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Fiber passes through your body relatively intact, unlike all other nutrients that your body breaks down and absorbs during digestion.
There are two classifications of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel within the digestive tract. Oats, beans, apples, citrus, carrots, peas, and barley all contain soluble fiber.
Insoluble fiber does not absorb water. Instead, it promotes movement through the digestive tract and adds bulk to your stool. Whole-wheat products, beans, nuts, cauliflower, green beans, and potatoes all contain insoluble fiber.
Experts recommend men consume 38 grams of fiber daily before the age of 50, and 30 grams daily after the age of 50. The recommendations for women are 25 grams before 50 and 21 grams after 50.
However, if your fiber intake is significantly below these recommendations, make sure to start slowly, and build up to these numbers so you don’t trigger even more gastrointestinal discomfort. To capture fiber’s full benefits, eat a combination of both soluble and insoluble fiber.
High Fiber Foods
As previously mentioned, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds are the main sources of dietary fiber. Below are a few of the highest fiber items within each category.
- Fruits: raspberries, pears, apples, bananas, oranges, and strawberries.
- Vegetables: broccoli, turnips, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and carrots.
- Starchy vegetables: peas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and corn.
- Whole grains: whole-wheat pasta, barley, bran flakes, quinoa, oatmeal, popcorn, brown rice, whole-wheat bread, and rye bread.
- Legumes: split peas, lentils, and black beans.
- Nuts and seeds: chia seeds, almonds, pistachios, and sunflower seeds.
Fiber and Acid Reflux
Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid flows from your stomach into the esophagus. A weak or damaged lower esophageal sphincter is the main cause of reflux. Overproduction of stomach acid also contributes to acid reflux symptoms. Eating acidic foods is known to make reflux worse because of excess acid. Eating high-fat foods is also known to make reflux worse because high-fat foods slow digestion.
Additionally, eating large meals, eating quickly, and eating before laying down also make reflux symptoms worse. With these concepts in mind, a high-fiber diet may improve acid reflux in numerous ways.
A high-fiber diet helps optimize overall digestion, whereas a low-fiber diet is associated with slower stomach emptying and poor movement of food through your digestive tract. The typical American diet is lower in fiber and higher in fat dietitians and doctors recommend. As discussed above, fat can trigger reflux by slowing overall digestion.
The longer food stays in your stomach, the more pressure it creates within your stomach, and the more likely it is to cause reflux symptoms by forcing acid upward into your esophagus. Shifting from a higher fat, lower fiber diet to a lower fat, higher fiber diet will help improve your digestion rate and help control your reflux symptoms.
Eating large meals also makes acid reflux worse. By eating smaller, more frequent meals, you will be better able to control your reflux. However, eating small meals may not feel as filling or satisfying, so eating food that makes you feel full is important for overall satisfaction. High-fiber foods, specifically fruits and vegetables, help you feel full and satisfied, and are also easy for your body to digest. Small, frequent, high-fiber meals and snacks help manage heartburn and other reflux symptoms.
Studies have also shown that fiber may also improve esophageal function. If you experience acid reflux regularly, your esophagus may become damaged over time. Healing, protecting, and strengthening your esophagus will help improve overall digestive health. A high-fiber diet improves the muscle tone of the digestive tract around your lower esophageal sphincter, which connects your esophagus to your stomach. These stronger muscles increase the pressure on the sphincter, which makes it more likely to remain tightly closed, and prevents stomach acid from backing up into your esophagus. High-fiber foods also keep this sphincter from opening too soon or too often during a meal, which may also help limit acid moving into your esophagus.
Certain dietary fibers have also been shown to neutralize acid within your stomach. Neutralizing stomach acid helps reduce both acid reflux frequency and severity. Specifically, whole grains such as brown rice and oatmeal absorb some acid within the stomach to reduce overall acidity.
When it comes to fiber and acid reflux, there is likely a point where you have too much of a good thing. Some studies show that too much fiber in individuals with acid reflux may increase symptoms. However, as with many reflux triggers, everyone’s experience with acid reflux will be slightly different. Learning what triggers your reflux, and which foods make you feel good, is an important step in working with your body to reduce your reflux symptoms. Keeping a log of foods you eat and symptoms you experience may provide beneficial insight into what works for you personally.
The Bottom Line
Dietary fiber helps improve overall digestion and alleviate acid reflux symptoms. Remember, if you are currently eating a low-fiber diet, slowly increase your fiber intake as you can tolerate it to allow your digestive system to adapt to a higher intake.
While there is no one best diet for acid reflux, diet and lifestyle changes have the potential to make a big impact on your symptoms. For more ideas of foods to include in your diet check out Best Foods for Acid Reflux.
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.