What Is a GERD?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a long term problem with the stomach. Acids that normally sit in the stomach are able to escape up into the esophagus (throat). This causes a burning pain in the chest called heartburn. Over time these acids cause permanent damage and scarring in the esophagus. Symptoms of GERD include:

  • Burning feeling that starts in the lower chest and moves up the throat
  • Sour or bitter taste in the throat
  • Pain that increases with bending over or lying down
  • Feeling that food is coming back up

Why Should I Follow a GERD Diet?

Your diet can directly affect the symptoms of GERD. Changes to the diet are a common part of overall treatment. If GERD is not managed, it can cause permanent damage to your esophagus.

Eating Guide for a GERD Diet

Changes in your diet can include food choices and eating habits.

How You Eat

Food moves down the throat and into the stomach. A muscular ring tightens to help keep the food in the stomach while it is digested. This ring is sometimes too weak to do its job properly or we may put too much pressure on it. Eating habits that can help reduce the pressure on this ring and decrease your GERD symptoms include:

  • Avoid large meals. Large amounts of food puts extra pressure on the stomach and the ring.
  • Stay upright during and after meals. Avoid slouching or lying down during meals. These positions put extra pressure on the stomach. Sitting upright at a table makes it easier for food to move down into the stomach and stay down.
  • Avoid eating within 3 hours of bedtime. Being upright help food move down. When you lay down it is much easier for stomach acid to flow out of the stomach and into your throat. If you have to lay down, try propping your upper body up.
  • Pace yourself during meals. Eating too quickly can make symptoms worse.
  • Eat in a calm, relaxed place. Stress can make symptoms worse.

What You Eat

Certain foods may trigger your symptoms or make them worse. It may be different from person to person. You may want to try keeping a food diary. Keep track of what you eat, when you eat, and your symptoms for 1-2 weeks. This may help you find what foods trigger your symptoms.

Common triggers include:

  • High-fat foods and fried foods —Fats slow the emptying of food from your stomach. This leaves more time for stomach acid to flow into the esophagus. Even healthier but high fat foods like 2% milk, nuts, and nut butters can cause problems.
  • Spicy foods, peppers —The chemical that gives peppers their heat increases stomach acid.
  • Onions
  • Chocolate —Chocolate can relax the opening of the stomach. Stomach acid can then pass into the esophagus.
  • Peppermint
  • Citrus fruits and juices
  • Tomatoes and tomato-based foods, like pasta sauce and chili
  • Alcohol—Alcohol stimulates stomach acid production.
  • Coffee (with or without caffeine)
  • Carbonated drinks

It is best to avoid foods that trigger your symptoms. Here is a sample menu that shows how you can still eat a variety of foods.

Breakfast Lunch Snack Dinner
Apple Juice (1/2 cup [118 milliliters (mL)]) Whole-grain cereal (3/4 cup [177 mL]) Banana (1/2) Whole-wheat toast (2 slices) Jelly or jam (2 tablespoons [29 g]) Skim milk (1 cup [237 mL]) Tea Vegetable soup (1 cup [237 mL]) Crackers (4) Lean beef patty (3 ounces [86 g]) Hamburger bun Reduced-calorie mayonnaise (1 tablespoon [14 g]) Mustard (1 tablespoon [14 g]) Lettuce Fresh fruit salad (no citrus) (1/2 cup [114 g]) Graham crackers (4) Skim milk (1 cup [237 mL]) Green salad (4 ounces [114 g]) Vinegar and oil dressing (1 tablespoon [15 mL] ) Broiled skinless chicken breast (3 ounces [85 g]) Herbed brown rice (1/2 cup [114 g]) Steamed broccoli (1/2 cup [114 g]) Whole-grain roll Low-fat frozen yogurt (1/2 cup [114 g]) Medium apple
Tip: Coffee at breakfast can increase stomach acid. You may want to try tea instead. Tip: Skip the tomatoes and onions on your burger. Tip: Stick to low-fat dairy products. Tip: Choose low-fat meats, like skinless chicken breasts.

Other Ways to Control GERD

Other steps that may help keep your GERD symptoms away include:

  • If you smoke, talk to your doctor about ways to quit.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese can make GERD symptoms worse.
  • Avoid clothing that is tight in the abdominal area. It can put extra pressure on the stomach.
  • Sleep with your upper body propped up.
  • Chew non-mint gum. Chewing gum can cut down on stomach acid.

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