What Is the Acid Reflux Diet?

Man tossing spring mix salad while eating with friends
Liam Norris / Getty Images.

In This Article

Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid washes back up from your stomach into your throat, or esophagus. When reflux is chronic, it’s termed gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Acid reflux may give you symptoms like heartburn, a tightness in your chest, or a bitter taste in your mouth. The acid reflux diet intends to keep GERD under control by avoiding trigger foods. This diet isn’t for everyone, but you can certainly give it a shot if you struggle with acid reflux. 

What Experts Say

“The acid reflux diet limits foods that can exacerbate symptoms of reflux. Experts agree that food, and other lifestyle factors, can have a major effect on symptoms. It’s helpful to work with an expert when limiting foods to ensure nutrient balance and satisfaction are maintained.”

Willow Jarosh, MS, RD

Background

The acid reflux diet came about as a way to combat acid reflux, a condition that occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, resulting in a slew of undesirable symptoms. If you have acid reflux, you may experience:

  • Frequent burping or hiccuping
  • Chronic bloating or indigestion
  • A burning sensation in your throat
  • A bitter taste in your mouth
  • Tightness or discomfort in your chest
  • Heartburn 
  • Difficulty swallowing 

Chronic acid reflux can turn into GERD, which is a serious medical condition that can lead to other complications if left untreated.

Based on limited research and anecdotal evidence of patients, health professionals have come to the conclusion that some foods may trigger acid reflux, and the acid reflux diet aims to avoid those foods. 

Research has found associations between acid reflux and high-cholesterol foods, fatty and fried foods, citrus fruits, acidic foods, caffeine, spicy foods, dairy, and carbonated drinks. As such, the acid reflux diet encourages people to limit those foods. 

How It Works

There’s no one acid reflux diet that suits everyone. Instead, there are general anti-reflux guidelines to follow, but you should tweak them based on which foods trigger your acid reflux and which foods don’t. For example, your doctor might tell you that chocolate triggers reflux, but if you find that you can eat chocolate with no discomfort, feel free to keep enjoying it. 

Additionally, lifestyle factors affect acid reflux — you should account for things like tobacco use, stress, exercise, sleep patterns, eating habits (e.g., large late-night meals), and alcohol consumption in addition to your diet. 

That said, you may benefit from following the acid reflux diet. With a diet like this that involves trigger foods and elimination, it’s best to work with a physician or registered dietitian who can help you discover your trigger foods, similar to an elimination diet for food sensitivities.

Essentially, once you find your triggers, you’ll want to stick to a trigger-free diet. Most health professionals also recommend that you eat more frequent, smaller meals throughout the day versus just two or three large meals.

Pros and Cons

It’s possible that embarking on the acid reflux diet could help you pinpoint trigger foods and thus help you avoid acid reflux. While that would be the primary goal and benefit, the acid reflux diet may also help you fit more vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains into your diet while limiting unhealthy fats and fried food, added sugar, and soda. 

You could opt for many medical treatments, such as different pills or surgery, to treat chronic acid reflux, but changing your diet is a great place to start — not to mention it’s easier and more affordable than a prescription or a procedure. 

You might be surprised to learn that despite a strong backing, there’s actually very little evidence that a trigger-based diet (or any diet at all) is effective for treating GERD. In fact, the American College of Gastroenterology doesn’t recommend this approach because the connection isn’t clear. Plus, elimination diets can be tough to follow for the first few weeks, and you might have withdrawal symptoms if you’re used to eating sugar and drinking coffee daily. 

Pros and cons considered, you may still have luck with the acid reflux diet. Just consult with a professional before beginning.

Common Myths and Questions

If you have acid reflux or GERD, you may have a few questions about the acid reflux diet. 

Will changing my diet alone eliminate my symptoms?

Nope. Well, probably not. Acid reflux can occur from a variety of individual factors or a combination of factors. You may need to make lifestyle changes that include: quitting tobacco use, beginning an exercise plan, getting more sleep, reducing stress, decreasing alcohol consumption, losing weight, and altering your eating patterns.

Couldn’t I just do a regular elimination diet? 

No. A traditional elimination diet seeks to discover food allergies or sensitivities and works by cutting out all of the major allergens: soy, eggs, tree nuts, dairy, gluten, seafood, caffeine, sugar, and alcohol. While some of those foods overlap with the non-compliant acid reflux foods, the diets have different goals. 

Does the acid reflux diet work for everyone?

Definitely not. While there’s potential, everyone’s trigger foods are different and some people may not find success with the acid reflux diet. Plus, as mentioned earlier, it’s not just diet that contributes to acid reflux.

In fact, there’s actually no proof that the acid reflux diet works for anyone — the diet is based on limited evidence between individual foods or compounds and acid reflux symptoms, such as cholesterol

How It Compares

Even though the acid reflux diet is designed to meet a very particular goal, it’s still similar to some other popular diets. Consider these quick comparisons:

  • Trigger-food diet that intends to uncover food allergies or sensitivities
  • Very restrictive in first few weeks — cuts out all known major allergens
  • Best done under the supervision of a doctor or registered dietitian
  • Well-researched healthy eating plan that mimics the style of eating seen in Mediterranean countries
  • Focuses on fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, whole grains, and lean protein
  • Not restrictive
  • Can be followed without one-on-one guidance from a health professional
  • A well-respected and heavily researched eating plan with the goal of lowering blood pressure, or hypertension
  • Very balanced and focuses on consumption of whole, nutrient-dense foods
  • Heavy focus on salt intake
  • Can be followed without one-on-one guidance from a health professional

Getting Started

If you’re ready to get started on the acid reflux diet, find a pen and a piece of paper. Start by making a list of all the foods that you think may trigger your symptoms. When you’re ready to start, cut out all of those foods — just make sure you have replacement ideas to meet your calorie needs while you’re in this elimination phase. 

Keep a food diary and take notes on your symptoms: Do they lessen in intensity? Frequency? Do they go away altogether? 

A Word from Verywell

When choosing a diet, it’s important to pick one that will help you reach your goals. If your goal is to reduce or eliminate your acid reflux symptoms, then the acid reflux diet might be worth trying for you. Keep in mind that the acid reflux diet is more like a set of rough guidelines rather than a strict eating plan. Flex it to meet your needs, and consult with a health professional for guidance. If the diet doesn’t help, it may be time to consider other treatment options. 

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources