An introduction to diet and acid reflux

8 March 2017  |  Editor

An introduction to diet and acid reflux

(See also article about causes and symptoms of acid reflux)

Acid reflux is the condition experienced when the acidic content of your stomach escapes upwards and backwards into your gullet (oesophagus) or mouth. It can be a one-off or occasional episode, or for some people with a troublesome health condition or problem, a more persistent issue.

Certain foods are known to trigger or worsen acid reflux. Although perhaps the most satisfying, the list includes spicy or fatty foods, chocolate and alcohol.

It may be a specific combination of food and drink you consume which worsens your symptoms. Additionally, your eating habits, including when you eat and how much you eat at a time, can also affect acid reflux.

This page helps you understand that what and how you eat can help you avoid or reduce the chances of acid reflux.

Foods to avoid

Certain food types aggravate acid reflux as they can reduce the efficiency of the digestive process (indigestion), weaken the valve at the bottom of the oesophagus (gullet), or stimulate more acid secretion in the stomach.

In addition, some foods trigger acid reflux in some people, but not in others. So, if you suffer from acid reflux or indigestion, it is worth keeping track of your symptoms, perhaps by keeping a diary of your symptoms alongside what you eat, to determine which foods are problematic for you.

Despite the individuality of food triggers, there are several foods which are commonly problematic to most people. These include:

  • Fatty foods – this covers most types of fast food, fried food, full-fat dairy foods and fatty meats. The basic reason is that fatty foods take longer to digest, making your stomach work harder. Fatty foods stay in your stomach for longer periods of time, making you more  prone to acid reflux
  • Spicy foods and citrus fruits – these can irritate the lining of both your stomach and oesophagus directly, even before we think about stomach acid. These foods can cause some of the worst acid reflux symptoms
  • Chocolate and fizzy drinks – studies suggest that these are the worst for causing the muscular valve between your stomach and gullet to relax. This means that your stomach is not fully closed off, and that the acid it is secreting is more likely to leak out and splash up the oesophagus
  • Alcohol – although some people find that a glass of wine after a busy day at work helps them relax, unfortunately it also relaxes the muscle between the gullet and stomach, making you more susceptible to acid reflux. As well as this, alcohol can irritate the cells lining your oesophagus, making it more sensitive to stomach acid
  • Tea – many people find that black tea aggravates acid reflux but white tea or green tea does not affect them in this way. This is largely because black tea has higher levels of caffeine than its herbal counterparts, and also higher levels of tannins. Both of these components cause your stomach to produce extra acid.

Foods to consume

The flip side  of having to avoid certain foods is that there are other types of foods which aid your digestive system and are unlikely to trigger unexpected acid reflux symptoms.

  • Oatmeal – aside from being filling and full of energy, helping to give you a good start in the morning, oatmeal has a high fibre level which helps to reduce acid reflux
  • Fish – apart from when fried or served in a fatty sauce, fish not only has excellent health benefits but is a protein which should not trigger symptoms of acid reflux
  • Bananas and melons - while citrus fruit may trigger acid reflux, bananas and melons should pose no problems. They have a neutral pH level and so should not aggravate any acid irritation
  • Root and green vegetables – potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, celery, asparagus...... All of these are good foods to consume regularly if you suffer acid reflux. Green salads are great too, but be careful to avoid onions and acidic dressings as much as possible
  • Ginger – though it may not work for everyone,  ginger, when used in moderation, is great for easing unwanted stomach  symptoms and can prevent acid reflux from developing into nausea

Good eating habits

Whilst what you eat may have the biggest impact on your acid reflux symptoms, how you eat can also have a big influence as poor eating habits can trigger symptoms.

To help avoid symptoms of acid reflux, try:

  • Eating small meals frequently – if you eat a lot at once, your stomach becomes too full, making it harder to digest what has been eaten. This means that the contents of your stomach are more likely to leak out into your oesophagus. Additionally, partially digested food travelling through your system will cause all sorts of other symptoms such as bloating and constipation.
  • Giving your digestive system time – wolfing down your food, then immediately jumping up, bending or lying down or exercising means that your stomach is not given enough time to properly mix the food with the digestive enzymes it secretes in order to break down the food. Additionally, these types of  movement cramp the stomach, increasing the pressure around it, and puts unwanted pressure on the contents of the stomach.
  • Wearing loose clothing – in a similar way to being overweight, tight clothing restricts the movement of the stomach. Wearing a tight belt or squeezing into a small pair of jeans squashes your stomach, encouraging acid to leak out of the stomach.