Food Choices Can Help Control Acid Reflux, GERD

by Dorian Martin Patient Advocate

While food should ideally be a pleasure, in some cases what you eat can make you feel really bad. That can be the case if you suffer from acid reflux (also known as gastroesophageal reflux) or GERD.

Acid reflux involves the stomach acid flowing backward into the esophagus, which is the tube that connects your throat to your stomach. When you have acid reflux, you may end up tasting food that you've regurgitated or sour liquid at the back of your mouth. You also may experience heartburn. GERD is a more severe form of reflux. Signs of GERD include frequent heartburn, regurgitation of food or sour liquid, coughing wheezing, difficulty swallowing and experiencing chest pain, especially when you're in bed at night.

One option is to make different dietary choices. Foods that have been scientifically proven to trigger GERD are chocolate, deep-fried foods, coffee, alcohol, and mint (including anything that contains mint oil). Fried food tends to be the biggest culprit since they are hardest to digest. Chocolate and cause a chemical trigger that loosens the lower esophageal sphincter, thus allowing acid reflux to be regurgitated. In a story on US News and World Report's website, Dr. Jorge Rodriguez, a gastroenterologist from California, points out that tomatoes and spicy dishes, which acidic, are not trigger foods. In fact, Rodriguez said spicy meals are fine to eat as long as you're not having a GERD attack.

Rodriguez does have numerous tips to help control GERD and acid reflux through diet. These are:

  • Consume fiber, which improves digestion. These foods include fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans and whole grains. He recommends eating one whole fruit, four types of non-starchy vegetables and a mix of soluble and insoluble fibers daily.

  • Use natural digestion aids, such as fennel and ginger. Ginger speeds up the passage of food through the intestinal track while fennel is believed to relieve bloating.

  • Don't fry foods. Instead, roast, grill or poach them using extra-virgin olive oil instead of butter or margarine.

  • Carefully select your dairy products. Dairy products that use goat's milk are easier to digest since they contain less fat. Reduced-fat and fat-free cow's milk may also be an option for people suffering GERD.

  • Try to eat like an Italian, since they suffer much less heartburn (14.8 percent, as compared to 42 percent in the United States). Eat small portions, lightly coat pasta with sauce, begin meals with a small serving of vegetables and eat fresh fruit for dissert. Also, take a walk after meals to aid digestion.

The other option is taking medication, although that can cause other issues to arise. For instance, a new study out of Methodist Hospital in Houston found that drugs that are often taken to combat acid reflux may actually contribute to heart disease. The researchers found that proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) actually caused blood vessels to tighten, which over a prolonged period of time could lead to numerous cardiovascular issues, including hypertension and a weakened heart. They also noted that the finding from this study explains findings from other research that found that people taking this type of medication are at risk for a second heart attack.

This study adds to growing concern about these drugs, which already have been found to be associated with increased risk of bone fractures, pneumonia as well as Clostridium difficile, an infection that is particularly dangerous in the elderly. These drugs also have found that proton pump inhibitors such as Priolosec, Prevacid and Nexium may reduce the absorption of vitamins, minerals and nutrients.

If you're suffering from acid reflux or GERD, try making the suggested dietary changes to see if they ease discomfort. That may be enough so you can avoid taking prescribed medications that could help your digestion, but harm your cardiovascular health.

Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

Ackerman, T. (2013). Acid reflux drugs linked to heart disease in study. Houston Chronicle.

Haupt, A. (2012). Is there an acid reflux diet? U.S. News & World Report.

Picco, M. F. (2011). Is acid reflux the same as GERD? The Mayo Clinic.

Dorian Martin
Meet Our Writer
Dorian Martin

Dorian Martin writes about various topics for HealthCentral, including Alzheimer’s disease, diet/exercise, menopause and lung cancer. Dorian is a health and caregiving advocate living in College Station, TX. She has a Ph.D. in educational human resource development. Dorian also founded I Start Wondering, which encourages people to embrace a life-long learning approach to aging. She teaches Sheng Zhen Gong, a form of Qigong. Follow Dorian on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram at @doriannmartin.