This article was updated to reflect recent research on May 17, 2021.
Acid reflux is one of the most commonly diagnosed digestive disorders in the United States.
Research shows diet and lifestyle changes can be as effective as medication in nearly 40% of people with the illness.
Adding foods and drinks, such as plant-based milk, oatmeal, kale, coconut water and purple cabbage, can lower acid reflux substantially.
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If the lyrics, “burn baby burn," conjure up visions of your nightly battle with heartburn instead of a long-ago disco inferno, you may be one of the thousands of Americans with acid reflux.
Research shows acid reflux is one of the most commonly diagnosed digestive disorders in the United States. It causes a wide range of symptoms from a burning sensation in your chest, a sour taste in your mouth, difficulty swallowing and a chronic cough. Over time, acid reflux may lead to health complications such as esophagus damage, open sores in the esophagus and increased cancer risk.
Recent findings released from the Nurses’ Health Study — one of the longest-running studies of women’s health—indicate that diet can significantly impact acid reflux and the severity of its symptoms.
The study identified five lifestyle factors that can substantially reduce acid reflux:
- Not smoking
- Drinking fewer than two cups of coffee, tea or soda a day
- Following a healthy diet that includes whole grains and limits red meat and added sugar
- Getting a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every day
- Maintaining a body mass index (BMI) below 25
Researchers found that combining those five factors was as effective against acid reflux as many medications used to fight this common disorder, including Prilosec, Prevacid, Pepcid and Tagamet.
What is acid reflux?
Before you can temper your acid reflux, it’s important to understand what it is. For starters, there is a valve at the entrance to your stomach with a big fancy name — the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Typically, your LES allows food to pass through to the stomach then closes. But for people who experience acid reflux, the LES doesn't close all the way. As your stomach produces acid to digest the food, some acid can move back up through the valve and into the esophagus. And since that acid is relatively potent, it causes burning chest pain.
Help improve your acid reflux with diet changes
These foods and drinks are shown to help reduce reflux:
- Coconut water — contains helpful electrolytes that promote pH balance and help control acid reflux.
- Plant-based milk — full-fat cow’s milk can worsen acid reflux and may be difficult for you to digest.
- Lean meats — chicken, turkey and certain types of fish are lower in fat than other meats, which helps reduce your symptoms.
- Oatmeal — helps absorb stomach acids. Have it for a hearty breakfast to start your day right.
- Kale — the minerals in this leafy green can reduce stomach acid. Try it in a salad; just stay away from garnishing with tomatoes, onions or high-fat dressings.
- Ginger — an anti-inflammatory, often used as a treatment for gastrointestinal conditions. Mince it and sprinkle into foods or drink it as tea.
- Purple Cabbage — helps regulate the body’s pH levels and reduce digestive issues. Try it in salads or juice it.
- Parsley — a medicinal herb used to settle the stomach and aid digestion. Use as a seasoning or garnish.
- Couscous and brown rice — they both provide complex carbohydrates and add fiber to your diet. Use them as a side dish with lunch and dinner.
- Poultry — chicken and turkey are low in fat. Eat them cooked lean, not fried, without the skin.
- Fennel — helps improve stomach function. Try roasting the bulbs brushed with oil and vinegar.
- Bananas — help neutralize stomach acids. Keep them around for a healthy snack.
- Melons — low in acid and contain magnesium, which is also found in many reflux medications. Eat as a snack or dessert.
How to Reduce Your Acid Reflux
If you’re struggling with acid reflux, there are steps you can take to improve your symptoms.
- Stay away from foods that can trigger symptoms, such as caffeine, carbonated beverages, chocolate, onions, citrus, tomatoes, and foods high in fat.
- Try to not eat before going to bed or lying down. This helps the LES keep stomach contents down instead of traveling back up to the esophagus.
- When you sleep, try propping up the upper half of your body with a wedge pillow.
If you experience acid reflux symptoms more than twice a week, it may be time to talk to your doctor and start planning a few changes in your eating plan.
With a few dietary adjustments, you can get your acid reflux under control and put out the inferno burning in your chest.
Have changes in your diet and lifestyle helped extinguish the fire in your chest? Share your #acidreflux and #heartburn solutions with readers @providence.
Find a doctor
The nutrition specialists at Providence can help you make changes to your diet to reduce your acid reflux and improve your health overall. Through Providence Express Care Virtual, you can access a full range of healthcare services. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory or search for one in your area.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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