Getting heartburn from time to time usually isn’t anything to worry about, especially if it happens after you eat an entire large pizza by yourself or have one too many glasses of wine. But, if you find yourself reaching for an antacid all the time no matter what you eat, you likely need to re-evaluate your daily diet.
Diet doesn’t necessarily cause gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition where stomach acid persistently rises up to your mouth and esophagus, says Stacy Cavagnaro, RD, a registered dietitian with Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Human Nutrition, “But what we eat and how we eat can exacerbate uncomfortable symptoms.”
These symptoms include heartburn, or a burning sensation in the chest, she says, as well as lesser-known symptoms such as bloating, chronic cough, difficulty swallowing, and regurgitation.
Eating too quickly, overeating, or eating within three to four hours of lying down or going to sleep can make symptoms worse, Cavagnaro says. And certain foods might also make acid reflux worse.
Not sure which foods make your acid reflux worse, and which ones can help the condition? Here’s an overview of the best and worst foods for acid reflux.
Worst foods for acid reflux
1. Fatty and greasy foods
Fried foods, fatty meats, and high-fat dairy, including french fries, chips, cheese, and sour cream, can relax the esophageal sphincter, which is the valve that keeps acid in the stomach, Cavagnaro says. When the esophageal sphincter is relaxed, more acid can seep into the esophagus, causing irritation. High-fat foods are also absorbed more slowly and sit in the stomach longer, causing the stomach to produce extra acid.
Caffeinated drinks, including coffee, can raise your risk for GERD. Caffeine also relaxes the esophageal sphincter, allowing more acid to creep into the esophagus, causing irritation, Cavagnaro says.
Related: What Exactly is GERD?
Drinking alcohol, especially red wine, especially in large quantities can increase the risk of acid reflux. Cavagnaro says alcohol is another food that relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter, making it more likely for acid to flow into the esophagus.
Related: What to Drink for Heartburn Relief
Like alcohol and caffeine, chocolate has been shown to affect the valve that keeps acid in the stomach. This allows it to move into the esophagus and mouth and give you heartburn.
Peppermint has been shown to help relieve lower GI symptoms, like bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea and constipation that come with irritable bowel syndrome, Cavagnaro says. But, peppermint can also trigger GERD symptoms. “If you have any reflux symptoms, steer clear of peppermint teas and supplements,” she adds.
6. Citrus fruits and juices
Citrus fruits and juices, including oranges, pineapple, grapefruit, lemons, and limes, are highly acidic. This leads to more stomach acid that can move up through the esophagus, Cavagnaro says.
Tomatoes and tomato juice are acidic, just like citrus fruits. So, they can trigger acid reflux since eating highly acidic foods leads to more acid in the stomach, Cavagnaro says.
8. Spicy foods
Capsaicin, the compound that gives spicy foods their spice, can slow digestion, which keeps food in the stomach longer, causing acid reflux, Cavagnaro says. It can also irritate the esophagus and worsen the effects of GERD.
9. Onion and garlic
Onions and garlic boost acid production in the stomach, Cavagnaro explains. This can make acid reflux worse.
10. Carbonated drinks
The bubbles in carbonated drinks can make GERD symptoms worse. “These can cause bloating and a feeling of fullness, causing more pressure and make reflux symptoms worse,” Cavagnaro says.
Best foods for acid reflux
1. Whole grains
Fiber-rich foods, including whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, and whole-grain bread, are important for gut health, Cavagnaro says. This could reduce your risk for acid reflux.
2. Green vegetables
Eating more vegetables can reduce your risk for GERD, research shows. Leafy greens, broccoli, zucchini, and green vegetables, are high in fiber, which benefits your gut health and reduces your risk for acid reflux, Cavagnaro says.
3. Root vegetables
Potatoes, sweet potatoes, and other root vegetables are a source of healthy carbs and fiber, which can lower your risk for acid reflux.
Ginger has been shown to reduce reflux symptoms. Cavagnaro suggests sipping on ginger tea or munching on a ginger chew when your heartburn is acting up.
5. Melons, bananas, and other alkaline foods
Alkaline foods help neutralize the acid in the stomach, Cavagnaro says. So adding more bananas, cantaloupe, honeydew, cucumbers, and apples to your diet can reduce your acid reflux. Many of these foods have a high water content, too, which also neutralizes stomach acid.
6. Low-fat or non-fat dairy
“Dairy has been used for centuries for reflux symptoms,” Cavagnaro says. But, it must be low-fat or non-fat dairy, like cottage cheese, skim or 1% milk, and low-fat yogurt. High-fat dairy, like ice cream and whole milk, could make acid reflux worse.
7. Herbal tea
Sipping on herbal tea can be a natural remedy for heartburn, according to Harvard Medical School. Chamomile, for example, can soothe the digestive tract, relieving your acid reflux. And, ginger is a helpful digestive aid. So opt for teas with these ingredients.
This natural sweetener can help neutralize stomach acid and has anti-inflammatory properties. It also coats the esophagus. So, honey is a great heartburn remedy.
Licorice has been shown to increase the coating of the esophageal lining, which can make acid reflux feel less irritating. Supplementing your diet with licorice lozenges or gargles can also help with digestive problems.
10. Aloe vera
Aloe vera is great for your skin, but it can also lessen the effects of heartburn. Research shows that aloe vera syrup reduced the symptoms of GERD, and aloe vera juice is loaded with vitamins and minerals and has anti-inflammatory properties.
Next, read more about the diet changes you can make to relieve heartburn.