Acid Reflux Diet vs. Other Diets: Which Is Best?

Squash and onions and brown rice

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If you’re shopping around for a healthy eating plan to try, you’ve probably come across many — perhaps too many — options in your search. If you’re considering the acid reflux diet, this is a good place to start: In this article, you’ll learn how the diet compares to the USDA dietary recommendations, as well as how it compares to four other healthy diets. 

A refresher: The acid reflux diet mainly aims to reduce or eliminate symptoms of acid reflux, such as heartburn, a tight chest, sore throat, burping, or bloating. Though the intention isn’t to lose weight, weight loss may be a welcome side effect of the acid reflux diet because it emphasizes whole foods packed with plenty of satiating nutrients. 

USDA Recommendations

Compared to the federal dietary guidelines , the acid reflux diet fits in quite nicely. The USDA recommendations encourage you to: 

  • Follow healthy eating patterns throughout your lifetime
  • Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount
  • Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats, and reduce sodium intake
  • Shift to healthier food and beverage choices

The acid reflux diet is consistent with these guidelines because on the acid reflux diet you will: 

  • Shift your eating patterns to agree with your body for the long haul 
  • Eat a variety of foods from many food groups; 
  • Limit high-calorie sweets, high-fat foods, and high-cholesterol foods
  • Drink less soda and coffee

As far as individual food groups and nutrients go, the USDA recommendations outline that you should eat: 

  • A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and others
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
  • A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products; and
  • Oils

The guidelines also specify that you should limit saturated fats and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium.

The acid reflux diet is almost 100 percent cohesive with the federal recommendations, but you should note some important differences. On the acid reflux diet, you should eat:

  • Fruit, but shy away from citrus varieties, which may trigger symptoms
  • Some whole grains, but too many might cause bloat, which can increase pressure in your stomach and trigger symptoms
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy
  • A variety of proteins, but stick to very lean proteins and limit red meat
  • Oils, but avoid inflammatory varieties like canola, soybean, corn, cottonseed, and mixed vegetable oils

Calories

Because the acid reflux diet isn’t a weight-loss-specific diet, there are no calorie guidelines to follow. The USDA guidelines set forth their recommendations based on a 2,000-calorie diet, which is a good average estimate. 

However, calorie needs vary based on your age, height, weight, activity level, and other factors. For example, a 130-pound person who doesn’t exercise won’t need as many calories as a 200-pound person who lifts weights or runs 3 miles every day. 

Use our online weight loss calorie calculator to help determine how many calories you need each day.

Similar Diets

All in all, the acid reflux diet is very comparable to many healthy diets. Here are a few of the best diets similar in style and structure to the acid reflux diet. 

Mediterranean Diet

General Nutrition: The Mediterranean Diet was born after researchers realized that people in Mediterranean countries lived longer and had a higher quality of life than most Western countries. After studying their diets, researchers came to the conclusion that the key to healthy living is a diet rich in whole grains, healthy oils, fish and seafood, nuts, and flavorful herbs and spices.

The Mediterranean Diet is definitely nutritionally sound, and in many ways, the acid reflux diet mimics that. The main difference is that on the acid reflux diet, you don’t want to consume too much oil, as a high-fat diet may trigger symptoms. Stick to one serving per day, and shy away from inflammatory oils like canola or cottonseed. 

Sustainability: Both the acid reflux diet and the Mediterranean diet are incredibly sustainable as far as diets go — but that’s because neither is truly a “diet” in the technical sense. Both of these diets are more like healthy eating patterns that emphasize the importance of individual satisfaction. On the acid reflux diet, you may feel temporarily dissatisfied during the initial elimination phase, but that should dissipate once you find a combination of food groups that works for you. 

On the Mediterranean diet, you should never feel deprived, as you’ll be eating tons of delicious meals like sautéed chicken with tomatoes, zucchini, and mushrooms served over farro and spring baked pasta with asparagus and ricotta. Overall, the Mediterranean diet may be more sustainable because it’s more than an eating pattern: social interaction and physical activity are an important part of the lifestyle .

Cost: The Mediterranean Diet may prove expensive in some aspects, especially if you prefer to eat organic. Some key components, such as olive oil and fish, can be costly. However, you can always use smart shopping techniques to keep costs down. The acid reflux diet also emphasizes fresh produce and lean protein, which can be expensive, but again, smart shopping can help. 

Weight Loss/Health Outcomes: This is one aspect where the Mediterranean Diet and acid reflux diet differ significantly. The Mediterranean Diet is about improving your overall quality of life — that includes making changes to your diet, your exercise regimen, and your social habits, as well as changes in the way you take care of yourself.

The acid reflux diet, on the other hand, is entirely about eliminating symptoms of acid reflux. The Mediterranean Diet is certainly healthy, but if you’re looking for something to specifically help with acid reflux, you should choose the acid reflux diet. 

DASH Diet

General Nutrition: Hailed as one of the most healthy diets ever developed, the DASH Diet consistently ranks in the top three of the U.S. News & World Report “Best Diets” list. It’s very similar to the USDA dietary guidelines, emphasizing the foods that you probably already know you should eat: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy.

As discussed earlier, the acid reflux diet is also pretty similar to the USDA guidelines, with just a few key differences. If you choose either of these diets, you can be confident that you’ll get all the nutrients you need each day. 

Sustainability: When you begin the DASH Diet, you’re encouraged to make changes slowly rather than try to make drastic changes overnight. For example, add one serving of vegetables or fruits to each meal, or snack on unsalted mixed nuts instead of salted nuts or potato chips.

When you begin the acid reflux diet, you’ll eliminate a relatively large group of foods all at once. This may make the acid reflux diet feel unsustainable at first, but keep in mind that this portion of the diet only lasts for a few weeks. Once your symptoms subside, you’ll start adding foods back into your diet one-by-one until you identify triggers. From then on out, the acid reflux diet is sustainable for most people. 

Cost: Nothing on the DASH Diet is particularly expensive — you’ll purchase a lot of whole grains, which are relatively inexpensive, as well as fruits and vegetables. You’ll introduce more fish and seafood on the DASH Diet, which may seem costly depending on the varieties you purchase. The acid reflux diet follows a similar structure (more produce, less animal protein), so you can expect these two diets to measure up equally when it comes to cost. With either diet, costs will rise if you choose to buy organic produce. 

Weight Loss/Health Outcomes: The DASH Diet was developed to help people lower their blood pressure and reduce the overall incidence of hypertension in the population. It does so by focusing on sodium intake because high-sodium diets are linked extensively to hypertension . Again, the acid reflux diet aims to help you manage things like heartburn, a sore throat, burping, bloating, and other symptoms of acid reflux, so choose your eating plan accordingly. 

Anti-Inflammatory Diet

General nutrition: Another healthy eating pattern, the anti-inflammatory diet is actually based off of the Mediterranean Diet. Like the Mediterranean Diet, the anti-inflammatory diet emphasizes nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and olive oil. It also has a strong focus on minimizing your intake of processed foods, like chips, pretzels, cookies, and other packaged snacks.

Compared to the acid reflux diet, the anti-inflammatory diet is a little more structured in terms of what foods you should and shouldn’t eat. This can be a good thing for people who need more guidance. 

Sustainability: The developer of the anti-inflammatory diet, Dr. Andrew Weil, designed the diet as a practical, well-rounded eating pattern that everyone can follow long-term. You can include many different foods from several food groups on the anti-inflammatory diet, which makes variety easy. Again, you might feel restricted during the elimination phase of the acid reflux diet, but after that you should be able to incorporate a variety of foods. 

Cost: Because the anti-inflammatory diet encourages consumption of some pricey foods, such as olive oil and nuts, it may be slightly more expensive to follow than the acid reflux diet. However, depending on your food choices, these two diets shouldn’t differ all that much in terms of cost. 

Weight Loss/Health Outcomes: The overarching goal of the anti-inflammatory diet is — you guessed it — to reduce inflammation in the body. This is based on the idea that the common denominator behind most chronic diseases is inflammation . Dr. Weil says that the anti-inflammatory diet can fight cancer, arthritis, dementia, and other diseases. The acid reflux diet does include some anti-inflammatory foods, but that’s not the sole purpose of the diet. Rather, it’s to reduce symptoms of acid reflux. 

As for weight loss, you’ll probably lose weight on either the anti-inflammatory diet or the acid reflux diet just by shifting your diet to include less processed foods and more whole foods.

Flexitarian Diet

General Nutrition: The Flexitarian Diet was developed as a way to encourage people to eat less animal protein. The developer, Dawn Jackson Blatner, says you don’t need to eliminate meat completely to enjoy the health benefits of vegetarianism. The same is true for acid reflux: You don’t need to cut out all animal protein to help your symptoms subside.

The Flexitarian Diet simply suggests that you eat more plants than meat, which is a good rule of thumb to live by, especially if meat triggers your acid reflux symptoms. Once you identify your trigger foods with the acid reflux diet, it might be helpful to merge the acid reflux diet guidelines with the Flexitarian Diet guidelines. 

Sustainability: For most people, the Flexitarian Diet is very sustainable for the long haul, because it allows you to indulge in cravings when you feel the need to. For example, you might eat plant-based for most days of the week, but order a burger when you go out for dinner with friends. The Flexitarian Diet emphasizes that you should not feel guilty for your food choices, which is a huge help for anyone prone to disordered eating.

On the acid reflux diet, there are not real off-limits foods, except, of course, those that trigger your symptoms. Even then, you have to decide if eating the food is worth the symptoms — sometimes it might be, such as having ice cream at your child’s birthday party. Both diets can be very sustainable with the right mindset. 

Cost: If you follow the Flexitarian Diet, your grocery bill may actually drop a bit. Produce and grains tend to be cheaper than meat, so by eating less meat, you should spend less money. Neither the Flexitarian Diet nor the acid reflux diet require any exotic or special foods that cost a lot of money. 

Weight Loss/Health Outcomes: The Flexitarian Diet intends to introduce people to the many health benefits of vegetarianism , including weight loss, lower risk of heart disease and diabetes, and lower blood pressure, among others. These are all great reasons to follow the Flexitarian Diet, but this diet may not necessarily help reduce your acid reflux symptoms, so it’s important to choose a diet based on your health priority.

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Article Sources

  1.  Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020 8th Edition. 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/.

  2. Altomare R, Cacciabaudo F, Damiano G, et al. The mediterranean diet: a history of health. Iran J Public Health. 2013;42(5):449-57.

  3. Ha SK. Dietary salt intake and hypertension. Electrolyte Blood Press. 2014;12(1):7-18.

  4. Hunter P. The inflammation theory of disease. The growing realization that chronic inflammation is crucial in many diseases opens new avenues for treatment. EMBO Rep. 2012;13(11):968-70.

  5. Appleby PN, Key TJ. The long-term health of vegetarians and vegans. Proc Nutr Soc. 2016;75(3):287-93.

Additional Reading

  • Katz PO, Gerson LB, Vela MF. Guidelines for the diagnosis and management of gastroesophageal reflux disease. Am J Gastroenterol. 2013;108(3):308-28.

  • Ryan KK, Seeley RJ. Physiology. Food as a hormone. Science. 2013;339(6122):918-9.

  • Shapiro M, Green C, Bautista JM, et al. Assessment of dietary nutrients that influence perception of intra-oesophageal acid reflux events in patients with gastro-oesophageal reflux disease. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2007;25(1):93-101.

  • Wang YK, Hsu WH, Wang SS, et al. Current pharmacological management of gastroesophageal reflux disease. Gastroenterol Res Pract. 2013;2013:983653.

  • Wu P, Zhao XH, Ai ZS, et al. Dietary intake and risk for reflux esophagitis: a case-control study. Gastroenterol Res Pract. 2013;2013:691026.