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Change How You Eat to Help Reduce Acid Reflux

GERD and Nutrition

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Here’s what happens in your body when you have a gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD) event:

  • Stomach acid and digestive juices wash back up into the esophagus
  • Sometimes the esophagus has trouble clearing the food, stomach acid and digestive juices, which can result in corrosion of the lining of the esophagus.
There are no universal food triggers for GERD
— Bethany Doerfler, MS, RDN

“Changing how you eat and what you eat can reduce the number of GERD events that you have and help the esophagus clear itself,” says Northwestern Medicine Senior Clinical Research Dietitian Bethany Doerfler, MS, RDN.

How You Eat Matters for Managing GERD

You can change your eating habits to help reduce your GERD symptoms:

  • Reduce your meal size. Large meals cause the stomach to expand, which prevents the sphincter at the top of your stomach from closing completely, resulting in the contents of your stomach washing back up into to your esophagus.
  • Stop eating when you feel 75% full. This allows your stomach to empty faster, reducing the chance of a GERD event.
  • Slow down. Put down your eating utensil between bites to allow time for the sensory receptors in your stomach to tell your brain that you are full.
  • Use smaller plates and bowls. This will help you feel more satisfied eating smaller amounts of food.
  • Avoid getting too hungry. That way, when you are finally able to eat, you can avoid overeating in one sitting. Eating small portions every 4 to 6 hours is a good eating pattern for people with GERD.
  • Set a cut off time for eating in the evening. Your metabolism is most active earlier in the day, which is why it’s a good idea to set a cutoff time for yourself in the evening to stop eating. Doerfler recommends 7 pm as a cutoff time so that your stomach has time to empty out its contents before you sleep. It may also be helpful to elevate your head when you sleep so that your gastrointestinal juices can’t wash up into your esophagus.

What You Eat Matters for Managing GERD

“You may have heard that you have to give up acidic or spicy food to help reduce your GERD events,” says Doerfler. “However, there are no universal food triggers for GERD. You don’t have to eliminate these foods if they don’t directly drive your symptoms.”

What triggers GERD is unique to each individual, and it’s important to pay attention to the foods that cause GERD symptoms for you and to eat them in moderation.

There are also certain foods that can help your gut work better, protect your esophageal tissues and help promote healthy bowel movements and the proper emptying of your esophagus and stomach.

These include:

  • More plant-based foods
  • Foods rich in soluble fiber, which contain antioxidants and phytonutrients that foster the growth of anti-inflammatory gut bacteria and protect tissue that may be inflamed from GERD irritation.
    • Foods rich in soluble fiber:
      • Fruits and vegetables, like berries, melons, carrots, sweet potatoes and green vegetables
      • Whole grains, like oats
      • Beans, peas and lentils

Drinking more water also helps rinse the esophagus and aid in digestion.

Red meat and processed foods take longer to empty from the stomach, and they also promote gut bacteria that can cause inflammation.

Your Lifestyle Matters for Managing GERD

You can also reduce GERD symptoms by maintaining a healthy weight. If you have excess weight, it can put pressure on the base of the esophagus, worsening GERD symptoms.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing GERD. A combination of changes to your eating habits, the foods you eat, lifestyle, medication and even surgery can help you manage your symptoms and disease.