Safe Foods for Heartburn Sufferers

Jacket potato with cottage cheese and chives, close up
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If you get frequent heartburn, you may be able to prevent bouts of burping, belching, and discomfort by following an acid reflux diet.

The premise of such an eating plan is simple and three-fold:

  • Steer clear of foods (and certain preparations) known to aggravate heartburn
  • Eat more foods that can minimize (and, in some cases, help neutralize) stomach acid
  • Include a balanced variety of nutrient-dense and healthy foods that will help you maintain overall health

Besides following these very simple guidelines, there are a handful of lifestyle changes that can help stave off digestive discomfort, whether you're dealing with occasional heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Foods to Avoid (and Why)

Besides knowing in general foods best to steer clear of to prevent heartburn or acid reflux, it's helpful to understand why certain foods can exacerbate these conditions.

  • Acidic foods. These can irritate the stomach lining and also contribute to existing acids in the stomach. Some obvious examples are orange juice (which contains citric and ascorbic acid) and cranberry juice (which has a combination of citric, malic, quinic acids, benzoic, and glucuronic acids).
  • Spicy foods. They too can irritate the stomach lining.
  • Foods that are high in fat. Because they're slow to digest, they sit in the stomach for long periods, prompting the production of excess acid. This means foods that are naturally high in fat as well as those that are deep-fried.
  • Coffee, tea, and other caffeinated beverages and foods. Not only is caffeine inherently high in acids, it stimulates the production of stomach acid.
  • Alcoholic beverages. Drinking relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the muscle that separates the stomach from the esophagus, allowing stomach contents to reflux back. It also can cause the LES to contract erratically, resulting in physical pain or discomfort.
  • Peppermint and spearmint. Both have been known to irritate the stomach lining.

    Safe Foods in an Acid Reflux Diet

    Certain foods have an alkalizing effect. Alkaline is essentially the polar opposite of acid. By eating these foods you can counteract at least some, if not all, excess stomach acid.

    Food Group Foods With Little Potential to Cause Heartburn
    Fruit Apple, fresh
    Apple, dried
    Apple juice
    Banana
    Vegetables Baked potato
    Broccoli
    Cabbage
    Carrots
    Green beans
    Peas
    Meat Ground beef, extra lean
    Steak, lean
    Chicken breast, skinless
    Turkey tenderloin
    Egg whites
    Egg substitute
    Fish, no added salt
    Dairy Cheese, feta or goat
    Cream cheese, fat-free
    Sour cream, fat-free
    Soy cheese, low-fat
    Grains Bread, multi-grain or white
    Cereal, bran or oatmeal
    Cornbread
    Graham crackers
    Pretzels
    Rice, brown or white
    Rice cakes
    Beverages Mineral water
    Herbal tea, non-caffeinated tea (except for peppermint)
    Oils Salad dressing, low-fat
    Snacks Cookies, fat-free
    Jelly beans
    Red licorice
    Potato chips, baked

    Lifestyle Changes

    Preventing heartburn and reflux is about more than just what you eat. Here are other simple measures you can take:

    • Chew gum. Doing so produces saliva which may help control reflux. (Choose flavors other than peppermint or spearmint.)
    • Don't stuff yourself. If your stomach is overextended it may cause the LES to open slightly, allowing stomach acid to seep up into the esophagus.
    • Don't go to bed on a full stomach. Schedule your last meal or snack of the day three to four hours before lights out.
    • Do not lie down right after eating. Stay upright for a couple of hours.
    • Raise the head of your bed several inches to reduce symptoms when sleeping.
    • Kick the habit. Smoking inflames not only the trachea (the windpipe) but esophagus, as well.

    A Word From Verywell

    While some foods are known to aggravate heartburn, others have little or no potential for harm. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the "safe" list is the same for all people. In the end, you will need to approach the diet in a structured manner for at least a couple of weeks, keeping a food diary to record which foods work for you, which ones don’t, and which seem to improve symptoms.

    Heartburn Doctor Discussion Guide

    Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

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