What to Expect on the Acid Reflux Diet

Bowl of fresh vegetables

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When following the acid reflux diet, you can expect to eat lots of fiber-rich vegetables and low-fat foods, while avoiding spicy foods, high-fat and fried foods, acidic foods, and citrus fruits. The acid reflux diet aims to minimize and even eliminate symptoms of acid reflux, which include heartburn, chest pain or tightness, the feeling of a lump in your throat, and a bitter taste in your mouth.

Reflux occurs when the contents of your stomach, particularly stomach acid, wash back up into your esophagus. That’s what causes the burning sensation you get in your throat when you experience reflux. 

What To Eat

Compliant Foods

  • Low-cholesterol, low-fat proteins

  • Non-citrus fruits

  • Vegetables and greens

  • Beans and lentils

  • Starches

  • Some whole grains

  • Egg whites

  • Low-fat and light desserts

Non-compliant Foods

  • Red meat and fatty proteins

  • High-cholesterol foods

  • Cow’s milk

  • Oils and fried foods

  • Spicy foods

  • Coffee

  • Carbonated drinks

  • Citrus fruits

  • Chocolate

For the most part, you’ll focus on avoiding reflux trigger foods on the acid reflux diet. Trigger foods include spicy foods, fried and high-fat foods, coffee, citrus, dairy, and carbonated beverages. You’ll replace those foods with vegetables, whole grains, and other healthy foods that may improve symptoms.

Don't forget that there's no single acid reflux diet that works for everyone — instead, you should experiment with removing foods and adding them back in to find your particular trigger foods.

Compliant Foods

Low-cholesterol and Low-fat Proteins: Red meat and fatty meats have been associated with heartburn and other acid reflux symptoms, so you should stick to very lean proteins like skinless chicken breasts, boiled ham, and lean cut pork chops. You can also eat fish and seafood. 

Non-citrus Fruits: Citrus fruits are acidic and can increase acid reflux. Melons, bananas, pears, and apples are great choices. Eat berries and cherries in moderation. 

Vegetables and Greens: Pretty much any vegetable is a go on the acid reflux diet because vegetables are low in sugar and fat, and may help to reduce stomach acid. Leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, and squashes are great choices. 

Beans and Legumes: Foods like kidney beans, black beans, edamame, and lentils pack a serious punch of fiber. Most varieties also contain ample phosphorus, magnesium, folate, and other micronutrients. 

Starches: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, rutabagas, turnips, parsnips, and other starchy vegetables can be a staple of your acid reflux diet. Starchy veggies have lots of fiber, vitamins, and minerals and can make you feel satiated so you don’t overeat.  

Some Whole Grains: You don’t have to cut out grains on the acid reflux diet. In fact, oatmeal is thought to be one of the best foods for dampening reflux symptoms. Other great choices include quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, whole wheat, barley, and many varieties of rice

Egg Whites: Egg whites are a fantastic source of protein, and you should enjoy them freely on the acid reflux diet. However, egg yolks are high in cholesterol and may trigger acid reflux symptoms. 

Healthy Fats: It’s recommended that you stay away from most fats on the acid reflux diet, but you still need to get in healthy omega-3s and omega-6s. When cooking, opt for oils like extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil over canola. You can also get healthy fats from walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, and other nuts and seeds. 

Low-fat and Light Desserts: While packaged desserts may not be the best food for you in general, you don’t want to feel deprived or restricted. Enjoy treats like angel food cake with strawberries, non-dairy sorbets, and other light, fruit-based desserts. 

Non-compliant Foods

Red Meat and Fatty Proteins: Red meat and other fatty proteins, like chicken thighs with skin, have been associated with symptoms of acid reflux, particularly heartburn. Avoid these foods for a few weeks and see if your symptoms improve.

High-cholesterol Foods: Cholesterol has been linked to acid reflux and GERD, so avoid foods like egg yolks, organ meats, overly processed cheese, lunch meats, sausages, and hot dogs, and fast food. 

Cow’s Milk: Dairy is a trigger food for many people with acid reflux, but not everyone. Avoid dairy for a few weeks to see if you notice a reduction in your symptoms. 

Oils and Fried Foods: Oils to avoid include canola, soybean, corn, cottonseed, and mixed vegetable oils, as they can be inflammatory and trigger symptoms. Be cautious of any fried foods, especially if you didn’t make it yourself. Fried foods are high in fat, cholesterol, and sodium. 

Spicy Foods: Peppers and spices trigger acid reflux symptoms in many people, as do tangy foods like garlic and onions. Try cutting these foods out of your diet for a few weeks, and slowly add them back in to find out if they trigger your symptoms. 

Coffee: Caffeine has been associated with acid reflux symptoms because it might relax your lower esophageal sphincter, which allows stomach contents to travel upward. However, there’s no robust evidence showing this link, so eliminate caffeine at your own discretion. 

Carbonated Drinks: Carbonated drinks may trigger reflux because of the carbonation itself, or because of the caffeine found in many sodas. Carbonation may increase pressure in your stomach, which can lead to acid reflux. 

Citrus Fruits: It’s in your best interest to avoid lemons and limes, oranges, grapefruits, and pineapple because of their acid content. You should also refrain from eating tomatoes or anything made with tomatoes, such as salsa, spaghetti sauce, chili, or pizza. 

Chocolate: Similar to coffee, chocolate contains compounds that may trigger acid reflux symptoms — in this case, a substance called methylxanthine is thought to induce symptoms despite its apparent health benefits. If you do eat chocolate, eat it in moderation. 

Recommended Timing

You don’t need to follow any particular eating protocol on the acid reflux diet, but you should focus on eating smaller meals more frequently throughout the day, rather than just two or three large meals. 

When you eat a large meal, you increase pressure in your stomach and lower esophagus, your stomach produces more acid to aid digestion. All these factors contribute to acid reflux. Eating smaller meals makes digestion easier and decreases pressure in your digestive tract.

There is one meal you should time carefully: Your last meal of the day. Many people experience acid reflux symptoms at night and eating too soon before bedtime can exacerbate symptoms. Try to eat dinner at least two hours before getting some shuteye, but preferably even three to four hours — lying down with a full stomach causes even more pressure on your digestive tract, which can force stomach contents back up your esophagus.

And as far as duration, if you have chronic acid reflux, you can benefit from following the acid reflux diet long-term. If you only experience infrequent, sporadic symptoms, the acid reflux diet can still help you identify triggers and improve your overall health. 

Resources and Tips

Avoiding trigger foods and utilizing healthy cooking habits is critical to finding success on the acid reflux diet. 

Some general healthy cooking and eating guidelines to follow: 

  • Try sautéing, roasting, baking, braising, steaming and roasting your food rather than deep-frying it. 
  • Choose healthier fats like olive oil and ghee over mixed vegetable oils and butter. 
  • Make the majority of your plate fiber-rich vegetables or healthy whole grains. 

You can also try these recipes developed specifically for people with acid reflux: 

Chia pudding with honeydew melon: Fit for breakfast, a snack, or a light dessert, this chia pudding is thick and creamy, yet low-fat — perfect for anyone experiencing heartburn. What’s more, this recipe uses only three simple ingredients: chia seeds, honeydew melon, and vanilla soy milk. 

Lower fat pesto and butternut squash pizza: Great news! You don’t have to give up pizza just because you have acid reflux. This lower fat version is chock-full of veggies and fiber and light on fat to keep it reflux-friendly. 

Lighter avocado chicken salad: Protein-packed and rich in healthy fats, this avocado chicken salad is sure to hit the spot on a warm summer day. 

Modifications

In general, the acid reflux diet can be a healthy diet for most people because it emphasizes nutrient-dense, whole foods with lots of fiber and micronutrients. 

Remember, foods on the “compliant” and “non-compliant” lists may not be the same for you as they are for someone else. For example, you may not tolerate dairy well, while someone else may do just fine with cow’s milk and cheese. 

Always make sure to account for food allergies and intolerances on any diet. Consult a physician or registered dietitian if you’re unsure about whether the acid reflux diet is right for you. 

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