Acute acid reflux can be prevented by following the basic acid reflux diet tips below but in chronic cases related to gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD, dietary management may only be useful in preventing acute exacerbations (flare ups).
GERD is associated with LES dysfunction (most common cause) as well as a hiatal hernia, increased intra-abdominal pressure and delayed gastric emptying. Therefore an acid reflux diet alone cannot treat GERD and has to be incorporated along with medication for proper management.
Foods To Avoid for Acid Reflux
Certain foods are known to decrease the tonicity of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The integrity and proper functioning of the LES is crucial to prevent stomach acid from flowing backwards up into the esophagus. Other foods have been implicated in increasing the gastric acid which may contribute to acid reflux.
The foods and drinks that should be avoided include :
- Caffeinated beverages – coffee, tea, colas and certain energy drinks.
- Alcoholic drinks and foods cooked with alcohol.
- Acidic drinks like citrus (orange, lemon and grapefruit), cranberry and some people may be sensitive to tomato juice as well.
- Fatty foods – oily foods, fatty meats, foods with double cream.
- Vegetables like onions, garlic, horse radish, bell peppers (capsicum) and peppadews.
- Spicy foods should be eaten in moderation or avoided altogether.
- Chocolates are widely reported as an irritant and so are mints, although many people find relief with mint sweets after meals.
- Carbonated drinks and ‘gassy foods’ may result in excessive belching which can contribute to acid reflux.
Eating Habits and Meal Tips for Acid Reflux
Acid reflux tends to aggravate at night and during sleep so the last meal of the day (usually supper/dinner) needs to be carefully monitored. The foods and drinks mentioned above should be avoided but if being consumed in moderation, it has to be avoided altogether in during supper/dinner.
Meal tips and eating habits that are important to consider include :
- Avoid eating large meals, especially at night. Small meals spread out throughout the day is preferable. Supper/dinner should be the smallest meal as the energy requirements are minimal at this time of the day.
- Focus on the meal by avoiding eating in front of the television. Being distracted tends to lead to overeating and eating too quickly which increases air swallowing (aerophagia) thereby contributing to excessive gas.
- Do not eat at least 2 to 3 hours before bedtime. Late night snacks have to be avoided altogether.
- Mild activity after a meal helps with gut motility. This may include a light stroll or even simple activities within the home. Never undertake any strenuous exercise or demanding physical activity as this can aggravate the reflux.
- Quit cigarette smoking and avoid even the occasional (social) smoke, especially after a meal. This includes cigar smoking.
- Avoid night caps and desserts laden with full cream dairy and chocolate. These practices may be customary or a habit but has to be changed in order to limit the extent of acid reflux.
- Consider a calorie-restricted and low GI (glycemic index) diet. While this type of diet may not directly affect the acid reflux, it is crucial for weight loss which is important in the management of GERD.