Dining Out Choices for People With Heartbun

What to Avoid and Better Choices on an Acid Reflux Diet

Young woman eating salad at cafe
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Eating certain foods in restaurants can trigger heartburn, just like they do at home. However, there are methods you can use to reduce your chances of having acid reflex triggered by what you eat and drink. These include regulating food choices, knowing how the food is prepared, beverage selection, and limiting portion sizes.

When you eat out, inquire how the dish is prepared and whether it is served with a sauce or gravy. Ask for a low-fat substitute or for the sauce to be served on the side. Check whether the meal includes any of your trigger foods that you know are often followed by a bout of acid reflux.

The following recommendations on what to avoid and what is better to eat cover many of the trigger foods and safer foods identified by people with heartburn. Keep a food record to identify which are often a problem for you. This will help you make smart choices for a heartburn-free dining experience.

Foods to Avoid on an Acid Reflux Diet

These foods are often identified as setting off heartburn.

  • Fried foods, such as burgers, fried chicken, fried fish
  • Sandwich melts (grilled, with cheese)
  • Club sandwiches
  • Foods prepared with butter or oil
  • High-fat side dishes, such as french fries
  • High-fat sauces, salad dressings, gravy, mayonnaise
  • Creamy soup
  • Chili
  • Dishes with lots of citrus fruit
  • Peppers
  • Onions
  • Foods with a lot of extra cheese
  • Tomato-based foods, including catsup
  • Citrus drinks such as orange juice and lemonade
  • Caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea, iced tea, and cola
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Chocolate

Better Choices for Your Acid Reflux Diet

  • White meat
  • Lean cuts of meat
  • Sandwiches with turkey, chicken, or roast beef on whole grain bread
  • Grilled foods
  • Broth-based soups
  • Steamed vegetables
  • Baked potatoes topped with low-fat salad dressing
  • Low-fat or no-fat salad dressings
  • Lighter desserts, such as angel food cake

Type of Cuisine

Dining out at your favorite Chinese, Mexican, or Italian restaurant can mean you have less control over your meal options and it may be harder to prevent heartburn. If you aren't sure what is in a dish or how the dish is prepared, don't be afraid to ask and request alterations or substitutions. Here are some suggestions for dining out at one of the following specific types of restaurants.

Chinese Restaurants and Your Acid Reflux Diet

Asian cuisine can range from mild to very spicy and use preparation styles that are heartburn-friendly or not. It may be best to avoid buffets and instead order off the menu requesting the type of preparation and ingredients that you best tolerate. Use these rules of thumb.

Foods to Avoid

  • Breaded and fried entrees
  • Egg rolls
  • Ribs
  • Sauces thickened with eggs and butter
  • Hot and sour soup
  • Crispy deep-fried noodles
  • Overly spicy dishes
  • Sweet and sour dishes

Better Choices

  • Entrees such as beef with broccoli, velvet chicken, or shrimp with mushrooms and bamboo shoots
  • Wonton soup
  • Steamed dumplings
  • Brown rice
  • Dishes made with vegetables in a light sauce
  • Stir-fried or steamed dishes with light wine or lobster sauces
  • Sauces thickened with broth and cornstarch
  • Fortune cookies for dessert

Mexican Restaurants and Your Acid Reflux Diet

A typical chain restaurant may have dishes that are heavy on cheese, acidic ingredients, and spices. The basket of fried tortilla chips and salsa is probably best avoided. But you should be able to find choices that are more heartburn-friendly and request mild spices.

Foods to Avoid

  • Chimichangas
  • Chorizo (Mexican sausage)
  • Fried tortilla chips
  • Deep fried tortilla chips and taco shells
  • Cheese and sour cream toppings
  • Refried beans
  • Chile peppers
  • Salsa, tomato, and onions
  • Mole (chocolate) sauce
  • Flan or other rich desserts
  • Sangria and margaritas (citrus)

Better Choices

  • Grilled chicken or fish
  • Low-fat refried beans and rice
  • Fajitas
  • Burritos
  • Tortillas
  • Mild guacamole on a flour tortilla
  • Broth-based soups
  • Dishes prepared with herbs such as cumin and cilantro

Italian Restaurants and Your Acid Reflux Diet

Visions of tomato sauce and cheese might come to mind when you think of Italian cuisine. You will need to learn to ask about preparation and sauces that are less likely to trigger heartburn.

Foods to Avoid

  • Heavy tomato or cream sauces
  • Pizza toppings such as double cheese, lots of sauce, sausage and pepperoni, hot peppers
  • Oil-based salad dressings
  • Antipastos with cheese, salami, and spicy peppers
  • Anything carbonara (cream, cheese, and bacon)
  • Anything parmigiana (fried, smothered in tomato sauce and mozzarella)
  • Any foods prepared with lots of garlic and spices
  • Rich, heavy desserts, such as cheesecake or tiramisu

Better Choices

  • Dishes with little or no cheese
  • Veal or chicken in a light mushroom sauce
  • Grilled meat, poultry, or fish.
  • Pasta "en brodo," which is a light broth-type sauce
  • Minestrone (vegetable) or pasta fagioli (macaroni and bean) soups
  • Vegetable side dishes without garlic or too much olive oil
  • Pasta primavera without sauce
  • Risotto or polenta dishes made with vegetables, not butter and cheese
  • Pasta in broth-based sauce
  • Vegetables with no garlic
  • Pizza with little sauce and cheese
  • Biscotti (crunchy Italian cookies) for dessert
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Article Sources
  • Eating, Diet, & Nutrition for GER & GERD. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/acid-reflux-ger-gerd-adults/eating-diet-nutrition.
  • Heartburn Risk Factors Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heartburn/basics/risk-factors/con-20019545.
  • Kubo A, Block G, Quesenberry CP, Buffler P, Corley DA. Dietary guideline adherence for gastroesophageal reflux diseaseBMC Gastroenterology. 2014;14(1). doi:10.1186/1471-230x-14-144.