What to Eat When You Have GERD

A gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) diet is an important part of the treatment for GERD, which is a chronic condition. It's also helpful for occasional heartburn (also known as acid reflux).

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The diet focuses on cutting certain foods out of your diet in order to lessen the chances that stomach acid will flow back up into your esophagus.

This article explains how changing your diet can help you avoid the symptoms of heartburn and GERD. It also explains how to follow a GERD diet including how to make accommodations to meet all your needs.

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Avoid These Things If You Have GERD

Benefits of a GERD Diet

The GERD diet focuses on eliminating food that can cause acid to come back up into your esophagus and cause you discomfort and possible health problems.

Specifically, this eating plan tries to avoid foods that

  • Reduce pressure on the muscles between the esophagus and the stomach
  • Slow down the movement of food from the stomach into the intestines
  • Increase stomach acid

GERD happens when the muscles at the bottom of your esophagus, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), get weak and stay too relaxed when they shouldn't. That allows acid from your stomach to back up into your esophagus, causing ongoing symptoms such as heartburn, cough, and swallowing issues.

In more serious cases, GERD can cause other issues such as:

The GERD diet helps your lower esophageal sphincter muscles work better and stay closed after you eat, so you'll have fewer of these issues.

Avoiding Some Foods

One of the reasons that LES will open when it shouldn't is that the stomach doesn't empty quickly enough. Known as delayed gastric emptying, this situation puts pressure on the muscles between the stomach and the esophagus, leading to stomach contents pushing back up through the LES.

High-fat meals are often responsible for this slowdown in digestion. In addition, highly acidic foods are responsible for an increase in stomach acid that irritates the esophagus.

The GERD diet focuses on avoiding foods that research has shown are more likely to trigger reflux and your symptoms.

Adding the Right Foods

Among the foods the GERD diet recommends you eat more is fiber.

In a study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology, people with heartburn who had low-fiber diets were given 15 grams of a psyllium fiber supplement each day. After starting the extra fiber, they had increased esophageal sphincter pressure, fewer incidents of acid backing up, and fewer heartburn symptoms.

A 2016 study published in Diseases of the Esophagus found that eating a Mediterranean-style diet is associated with a lower risk of GERD. That makes sense because the Mediterranean diet is known for being lower in fatty meats and processed foods. It's also higher in seafood, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes.

Both the National Institutes of Health and the American College of Gastroenterology recommend a diet-first approach to treating GERD.

In addition to improving your symptoms, this way of eating may lead to some weight loss. Being overweight puts you at a much higher risk of GERD, and research has found that losing weight is one of the best strategies to prevent the condition.

As little as a 10% reduction in weight improves GERD symptoms and often allows people to go off prescribed acid blocker medications (with their doctor's approval).

Recap

Food has an effect on the muscles between the esophagus and the stomach. Choosing foods that are low fat and low acid won't encourage these muscles to open. This helps you avoid painful reflux.

What Is a GERD-Friendly Diet?

The GERD diet is not just a list of foods to eat. It works to retrain your approach to eating.

The GERD diet helps you to:

  • Steer clear of foods and beverages that aggravate heartburn
  • Choose more foods that can help control stomach acid production
  • Establish eating habits that can reduce your symptoms
  • Include a balanced variety of nutrient-dense and healthy foods that will help you maintain a healthy weight

To get these results, you have to learn to select the right food. Controlling when you eat and how much also plays a part.

If you have chronic GERD and get heartburn frequently, you can benefit from the GERD diet by following it long-term. Even if you experience symptoms infrequently, becoming familiar with and keeping a close eye on the consumption of trigger foods may help you prevent symptoms.

Unfortunately, avoiding trigger foods doesn't guarantee that you will never get that burning sensation in your throat.

What to Eat

The GERD diet should be tailored to your taste preferences but focused on foods that are low in acid and fat. Review these lists to see GERD-diet compliant, or approved, foods and non-compliant foods that should be eliminated. Keep in mind that it's important to monitor your portions, especially if you're overweight.

Compliant Foods
  • Fruits (some exceptions)

  • Vegetables (some exceptions)

  • Whole and cracked grains

  • Low-fat dairy foods or non-dairy products

  • Lean meats (e.g., lean beef, skinless chicken, seafood)

  • Whole soy foods (e.g., tofu or tempeh)

  • Lentils, chickpeas, and other legumes

  • Nuts, nut butters, and seeds

  • Healthy fats like olive oil, and avocado (in moderation)

  • Herbal teas

  • Most mild herbs, spices, and seasonings

  • Psyllium fiber supplements

Non-Compliant Foods
  • Citrus fruits

  • Tomato and tomato products

  • Spicy peppers

  • Heavily spiced cuisine (e.g., Mexican, Thai, or Indian)

  • Greasy or fatty fried foods

  • Peppermint or spearmint

  • Chocolate

  • Potent spices like chili powder, cayenne pepper, and cinnamon

  • Any other foods that frequently bother you like vinegar, onions, or garlic

  • Carbonated beverages

  • Coffee, mint teas

  • Alcohol

Fruits: Citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, and pineapples (for some people), are likely to trigger reflux because of their acid content. All other fruits are good choices unless they don't agree with you.

Vegetables: Avoid tomatoes, tomato sauce, and spicy peppers; be aware that some people find onions and garlic irritating as well. All other vegetables are good choices and can help increase fiber.

To boost your fiber intake, fill half of each plate (meals and snacks) with an assortment of GERD-diet-approved fruits and vegetables.

Whole and cracked grains: Oats, brown rice, quinoa, farro, 100% whole wheat, wheat bran, and all other whole grains are good sources of fiber. Eat a small serving with each meal.

Dairy foods: Limit whole milk, cream, ice cream, and full-fat yogurt. Dairy foods can increase stomach acid, and high-fat foods can relax the esophageal sphincter muscle. Choose small servings of low-fat versions or non-dairy milk products instead.

Meats: Avoid high-fat and heavily-spiced meats like bacon, sausages, hot dogs, hamburgers, fried chicken, salami, pastrami, pepperoni, etc. Choose lean cuts of beef or pork, skinless poultry, and seafood.

Fats: Use healthy fats like olive oil and avocado in moderation. Avoid fried foods like French fries and greasy foods or gravies made with meat fat.

Spices, herbs, and seasonings: Stick to fresh or dried herbs like basil, parsley, oregano, or thyme, and avoid potent/hot spices like cinnamon, curry powder, chili powder, cayenne pepper, or hot paprika. Mint, especially peppermint, can be a trigger for many people.

Chocolate: Chocolate increases stomach acid, so it's best to avoid any candies, desserts, or baked goods that contain it (that goes for real hot chocolate, too).

Beverages: Plain or fruit-infused water or caffeine-free herbal teas can be soothing. Avoid peppermint or spearmint, but licorice or fennel tea may help to calm heartburn and heal the mucosal layer in your esophagus if it's irritated.

Avoid coffee and alcohol, which increase acid and irritate the stomach and esophagus. Many people also find carbonated beverages bothersome, whether they have caffeine or not, so steer clear of those as well.

When and How to Eat

When you eat can have as much of an impact as what you eat. The most important meal to time properly is dinner. Try to eat dinner at least two to three hours before bed, skip any late-night snacking, and remain upright until you go to bed. Gravity will help you digest your food faster and reduce the chance that your meal and stomach acid will be pressing up against your lower esophagus while you're sleeping.

It's not essential to time your earlier meals or to eat on a schedule, but it is important to eat small meals rather than larger ones. Large meals produce more stomach acid, take longer to digest, and put extra pressure on your lower esophagus, all of which make heartburn more likely.

Rather than eating three large meals, you may feel better if you eat five small meals and spread them out so they're digested before you eat again.

Cooking Tips

For healthier meals, fewer calories, and less fat, use healthy cooking methods like sautéing, grilling, roasting, braising, or baking. Avoid deep-frying. If you miss the crispy crunch of fried foods, try an air fryer, which uses just a small amount of oil.

Stock your pantry or refrigerator with spices from the compliant list above to substitute for hot spices, onions, and garlic.

Recap

Following a GERD diet does not mean denying yourself tasty food. But it does mean you need to think about what you're eating and plan your meals. A wide range of fresh and non-processed foods make up the GERD diet. Avoiding high-fat, fried, and spicy foods will help you cut back on acid and the pain associated with reflux.

Considerations

With the exception of the foods that should be avoided, the GERD diet can and should be very flexible. It's important for this and any diet to work with your lifestyle, so feel free to include more of the foods you like and to pay attention to how they affect your symptoms.

Experiment with new foods and flavors to replace any that you're missing. The GERD diet might just open up a whole new and healthier way of eating for you.

General Health

The GERD diet is actually a very good diet for anyone to follow, because it stresses more high-fiber foods, less fatty foods, and smaller meals, all of which can help you maintain a healthier weight.

Its emphasis on a Mediterranean diet and high-fiber diet pattern is in line with the 2020-2025 USDA Dietary Guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Summary

Heartburn and GERD are uncomfortable problems, but they can be managed. While controlling your symptoms, you can choose from a wide variety of delicious and healthy foods that allow you to avoid reflux.

To stay motivated to follow a GERD diet, remind yourself what high-fat and acidy foods do to your body and that GERD symptoms can put you at risk for other health problems such as an increased risk of esophageal cancer.

A Word From Verywell

There is no one-size-fits-all GERD diet. Certain foods may trigger reflux for you but not be a problem for others with heartburn or GERD. Keeping track of what you eat can help you avoid painful symptoms. Sharing tips and recipes with others is a great way to have fun with the recommended foods and keep you committed to a healthy eating plan.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What should I drink for acid reflux?

    There are a few drink options that may help acid reflux. Ginger tea, a small amount of apple cider vinegar mixed with warm water, and a lemon juice and warm water mixture with honey can offer acid reflux relief. Some people may also find a small amount nonfat milk and non-dairy options can help relieve symptoms.

  • Which foods can cause acid reflux?

    Foods that have high amounts of fat, salt, and spice can be acid reflux triggers. This includes French fries, fried food, fast food, fatty meat like bacon, chili powder, and processed foods with lots of salt. Not everyone with acid reflux needs to avoid these options. In fact, some people might be able to tolerate small or moderate amounts of them. Avoiding trigger foods and moderating your diet is key.

  • What are non-acidic fruits?

    Non-acidic fruits include choices like cantaloupe, watermelon, and bananas. These fruits have a higher pH than citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit, which can trigger symptoms for people with GERD. Alkaline foods are those with a high pH and should be a focus for people that experience heartburn and GERD.

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6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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