Acid reflux happens when the contents of your stomach rise into your esophagus. This occurs when your lower esophageal sphincter (LES) relaxes and allows stomach acid to enter your esophagus.
Your doctor may diagnose you with gastroesophageal disease (GERD) if this happens more than twice a week.
Several food-related factors may contribute to acid reflux, such as:
- the position of your body after eating
- the amount of food you eat during a single meal
- the type of foods you eat
You can control each of these factors by making smart decisions about how and what you eat. Modifying your body position to an upright posture after a meal and eating smaller portions may help prevent reflux. However, knowing which foods to avoid can be a bit more confusing.
There’s still some controversy in the medical community over which foods actually cause reflux symptoms. Despite this lack of consensus, many researchers agree that certain types of foods and beverages are best avoided to prevent indigestion, heartburn, and other symptoms of acid reflux. Weight loss may also be helpful in reducing symptoms.
Fatty foods generally lower pressure on your LES and delay stomach emptying. This may boost your risk of reflux symptoms. To help prevent reflux, decrease your total fat intake. Here are some high-fat foods you may want to avoid:
- french fries
- deep-fried onion rings
- potato chips
- whole milk
- ice cream
- high-fat sour cream
- high-fat creamy salad dressings
- creamy sauces and dips
- high-fat cuts of red meat, such as marbled sirloin or prime rib
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases includes spicy foods on its list of foods that can make reflux symptoms worse.
Some studies have suggested that spicy foods can cause abdominal pain and burning symptoms, if you have a functional gastrointestinal disorder. However, one study showed that regular exposure to capsaicin doesn’t produce the same discomfort as occasional exposure. Capsaicin is the ingredient that makes chili peppers and chili powder taste spicy. Researchers noted that eating spicy foods may actually improve your GERD symptoms if you eat them on a regular basis.
Pay attention to how you feel after eating certain foods. Consider your spice tolerance when planning meals.
Fruits and vegetables are an important part of your diet. However, certain types might make your GERD symptoms worse. The following fruits and veggies are common offenders:
- citrus fruits, such as oranges, grapefruit, lemons, and limes
- tomatoes and tomato-based foods, such as tomato sauce, salsa, chili, and pizza sauce
- garlic and onions
If in doubt, discuss your tolerance level with your doctor and dietitian.
Several common drinks may also trigger symptoms in people with GERD. These include:
- coffee and tea
- carbonated beverages
- citrus and tomato juices
With or without caffeine, coffee might promote reflux symptoms. However, some people with GERD tolerate coffee well. Pay attention to your symptoms, and only consume beverages that you tolerate well.
A number of other foods and medicines may cause your LES to function poorly. This can lead to GERD symptoms. For example, you may experience symptoms after consuming:
- mint, such as peppermint or spearmint
- iron or potassium supplements
- aspirin or other pain relievers
- calcium channel blockers
- processed foods
You may be tempted to stop taking a medication or supplement if you think it’s increasing your acid reflux or heartburn symptoms. Always talk to your doctor before stopping your current medications.
Making adjustments to your diet and eating habits can help you reduce your acid reflux symptoms and your need for antacids. Long-term use of antacids, however, may result in unwanted health effects. It may help to eat smaller portions and stay in an upright position after meals. Avoid high-fat foods, spicy foods, and certain fruits, vegetables, and beverages if they trigger symptoms.
You might also notice symptoms after taking medications or supplements. If this happens, speak with your doctor. They may be able to recommend alternate medications or strategies to manage your symptoms.