If you have recently been diagnosed with acid reflux, you should eat a healthy and balanced diet. There is not enough evidence to avoid entire food groups if you have reflux, but there are certain foods that can make reflux worse for some people. For example, if you have acid reflux, your doctor may suggest that you avoid chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, and acidic or spicy foods. However, completely replacing food in your pantry can be expensive and overwhelming. Instead, try making the following small changes to decrease your reflux symptoms.
Start with easy substitutions
Subtle changes are the easiest to make and the most long-lasting. For example, gradually begin to replace your red pasta sauces with light pesto or low-fat cream sauces. Change your pastas to whole-grain varieties. When you run out of your granola bars, replace them with higher-protein bars that are nut- and fruit-based instead of wheat- and sugar-based. These substitutions will allow you to have the same foods you are used to having in your pantry, but the choices will be more reflux friendly.
Display reflux-friendly foods
We tend to eat what we see. According to the Cornell Food Lab the food sitting on kitchen counters can predict the weight of the women living in each home. In one study, women who had soft drinks on their counters weighed 24-26 pounds more than women who did not. Those who had a fruit bowl on their counter weighed about 13 pounds less. Getting rid of the junk food and putting a fruit bowl and whole-grain crackers on the counter are easy changes to make.
Eat trigger foods sparingly
Not every food in your pantry that is a potential reflux trigger needs to go in the trash. Acid reflux varies widely among individuals. What bothers one person with acid reflux may not bother another. With my reflux, I can drink coffee sparingly with no effect but I cannot even have a sip of tea without immediate heartburn. As you begin to figure out the pattern of your symptoms, you will most likely find that you can eat certain trigger foods in moderation.
Become a meal planner
According to the American Dietetic Association meal planning can help with weight loss. Keeping an ideal body weight is especially important if you have reflux because the excess weight around your midsection can put extra pressure on your esophagus and make your symptoms worse. Planning your meals ahead of time will not only help you to make healthier choices, but will also save you time and money throughout the week. You can begin here with a one-week, reflux-free meal plan and then stock your pantry accordingly.
Bake your own treats
Having acid reflux does not mean you have to give up your life and all the foods that you love. However, it does mean that you have to be smart with your food choices. If you have a sweet tooth like I do, there is probably no way that you are going to give up eating desserts. Instead, bake your own sweet treats. This way you can limit some of the less healthy ingredients in the store-bought brands. You can also use whole-grain flour, a better oil such as coconut oil and sneak in some natural sweeteners like dates or dried cherries. This recipe for banana bars is always a hit with my family.
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Tracy Davenport, Ph.D., is a freelance health writer and the C.E.O. of Tracy’s Smoothie Place. She serves as the expert on a weekly radio show about health and wellness and is the author of Making Life Better for a Baby with Acid Reflux and multiple articles about the cost of caregiving. Learn more about Tracy and what healthy living services and products she can offer on her website. She can also be found on Twitter and Instagram @drinksmoothies.