At the entrance to your stomach is a valve, a ring of muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter or LES. Normally, the LES closes as soon as food passes through, however, if it does not, digestive acids produced by the stomach can move back up – or reflux – back into the esophagus. This can lead to burning chest pain called heartburn. If these acid reflux symptoms happen more than twice a week, you have acid reflux disease, also known as GERD.
Common risk factors for acid reflux disease include:
• Eating large meals or lying down right after a meal
• Being overweight or obese
• Snacking close to bedtime
• Being pregnant
• Taking aspirin, ibuprofen, certain muscle relaxers, or blood pressure medications
Doctors Jamie Koufman MD and Jordan Stern MD, along with French master chef Marc Bauer, have written the book Dropping Acid: The Reflux Diet Cookbook & Cure.” Included are 75 healthy recipes that include foods that are good for patients with reflux disease.
Oatmeal is a bland grain that is filling in small amounts. Eating too large of a meal out of hunger can often lead to reflux, but the fiber in oats can help keep you full longer without “filling up.” If eating plain oatmeal is just too bland to be palatable, try adding a spice such as cinnamon (as long as that isn’t a reflux trigger) or even a little sugar. Remember to use low-fat milk or water, as high-fat dairy can lead to symptoms.
Ginger is an anti-inflammatory and has been used throughout history as a treatment for gastrointestinal conditions, including nausea. A 2007 study found that ginger extracts can be just as effective as acid-blocking medications.
Ginger root can be peeled, sliced, diced or shaved using a grater. Add it to your favorite dish, steep it into a tea, or add it to a smoothie.
The leaves of the aloe vera plant is often used topically to relieve pain. Just as it eases burning of the skin, aloe vera juice can help treat the burning within the body from GERD. WARNING, though…aloe vera juice can be a powerful laxative. Long-term use is not recommended.
When you choose a salad over fried fast foods, you aren’t only avoiding a potential GERD trigger, you are also consuming a food that is low in fat, calories and could help ease symptoms. Leafy greens are another filling food that will not leave you “over-full.” But beware of high fat dressings, cheese, and fried croutons on your salad. Plus you may also want to avoid onions or tomatoes, as these can be triggers as well.
Bananas are neutral pH (5.6) and another food that is filling and bland, making them a great snack for those with acid reflux. They also contain substances that help suppress acid secretion in the stomach. The most effective bananas are those that are fresh and yellow; overripe bananas do not provide the same benefits.
Keep in mind, though, that every person with GERD has different triggers, and there are about 1% of patients that actually find bananas to worsen their condition. Keep a food diary so that you find your own personal reflux triggers.
Melons have a pH of 6.1 which makes them weakly acidic. However, they are a great source of magnesium, a mineral that is found in many reflux medications. Melons that seem to be particularly good for reflux sufferers include honeydew, cantaloupe and watermelon. But, as with bananas, there is a small percentage of patients who find melon to worsen symptoms instead of helping.
Fennel may help improve stomach function. Steep it into a tea by adding two teaspoons of fennel sliced thin (the white bottom part) to boiling water. Strain after five minutes and drink. Fennel is also a great addition to salad and in chicken dishes.
Chicken and Turkey
Speaking of chicken, as long as you don’t eat it fried and avoid the skin, chicken and turkey are a low fat, high-protein bland source of filling nutrients that are good for patients with reflux disease. Try it boiled, baked, grilled or sautéed.
Fish and Seafood
Here is another example where whole foods are better than supplements. Taking fish oil capsules may actually trigger symptoms, but if you eat the whole fish, it can be heartburn soothing. Again, eat it broiled, baked or grilled versus fried.
You might have heard of celery as a negative food – it burns more calories that it contains. That may not be entirely true, however it is true that celery is mostly water and fiber. It can work as an appetite suppressant to keep you from overeating.
For thousands of years, parsley has been used as a medicinal herb to settle the stomach and aid digestion. But most people ignore that little green garnish. Use parsley as a seasoning for foods instead of leaving it on the side.
Couscous, Rice and Potatoes
Complex carbohydrates are perfect foods for reflux sufferers. You may think that you should eat very bland grains, but that isn’t true. Fibrous grains are not anymore likely to cause symptoms. Try couscous, bulgur and brown rice in soups and stews to make them more filling.
Potatoes are also a filling complex carb to include with meals. Just avoid the high fat sour cream and butter.
Fresh pineapple is rich in enzymes, particularly bromelain, which help aid digestion, alleviate inflammation and can help with the process of healing. Keep in mind that only fresh pineapple is recommended – not the juice, and not canned fruit in heavy syrup.
Papayas contain papain, which helps the stomach to better digest protein. Papaya also has anti-inflammatory benefits and is a powerful source of antioxidant nutrients. Try mixing diced papaya in salad or blend into your favorite fruit smoothie.
Chamomile is traditionally known for its calming and sedative properties. It may also help aid digestion, decrease stomach acid, and relieve irritation in the esophagus due to its high calcium content.
Apple Cider Vinegar (use at your own risk)
There are many who swear by a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar a day for reflux or other digestive problems. It is highly acidic, so obviously is not recommended in large doses. Small doses are thought to potentially help improve digestion, but there are no medical studies to back this claim.
This method certainly is safe to try unless you have ulcers (which the acidic nature of vinegar will aggravate) or if you are on certain medications (including diuretics, laxatives, heart disease medication, or diabetes medication). Apple cider vinegar may also damage tooth enamel.
“Dropping Acid: The Reflux Diet Cookbook and Cure” by Jamie Koufman, Jordan Stern and Marc Michel Bauer. 2010
WebMD: Treating Acid Reflux Disease with Diet and Lifestyle Changes
Doctor Oz: Say Goodbye to GERD
Mugur N Siddaraju, Shylaja M Dharmesh Inhibition of gastric H+, K+-ATPase and Helicobacter pylori growth by phenolic antioxidants of Zingiber officinale. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2007 Mar;51(3):324-32. PMID: 17295419
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