Foods that Reduce Heartburn (Acid Reflux)

Heartburn, also known as acid reflux, is a condition in which the individual experiences a burning sensation in the chest. It is caused by the upward movement of the acidic gastric contents into the gullet or esophagus, causing irritation of the mucous lining. In addition to the discomfort, the acid may cause a bitter taste in the mouth if it reaches as far as the pharynx.

Some foods that intensify or trigger heartburn may not be the same for all individuals. These foods include spices like garlic or raw onions, black pepper, tomatoes, citrus fruit and vinegar. Fatty foods may also trigger heartburn, because they slow down the transit of food through the gut, which keeps the stomach filled for a longer period. This in turn puts extended pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which is the circular band of muscle that normally keeps the lower end of the gullet closed in order to keep the gastric contents in the stomach. The overstretching of the LES leads to regurgitation of the contents of the stomach upwards.

What foods should a person with heartburn choose instead?

Firstly, fatty foods should be cut out of the diet as much as possible. This includes fatty meat, baked goods and fried foods. Instead, the choice should be for lean meats (including poultry) and fish, which have little fat. These can be baked, grilled, steamed or broiled according to taste – only not fried or smothered in rich sauces.

Are plant foods useful in heartburn?

Other good food choices include legumes, fruits, whole grains and vegetables.

For breakfast, traditional fatty foods like bacon or ham may be substituted with oatmeal, fresh fruit, raisins and perhaps a hint of cinnamon for flavor.

Oatmeal has a high fiber content, which promotes healthy bowel habits, reduces portion size, and tastes good as well. Oatmeal with milk and fresh fruit provide an attractive alternative to fatty meats for breakfast.

Fresh bananas are great for preventing acid reflux, because they contain very little acid. They coat the mucous lining of the esophagus, thus strengthening mucosal defenses against reflux. The fiber in bananas also speeds up the passage of food through the gut, preventing the stasis of food for longer than necessary in the stomach, and thus limiting acid production, while reducing the chances of acid reflux.

Fresh bananas help prevent heartburn / acid reflux. Image Credit: Hanna_photo / Shutterstock
Fresh bananas help prevent heartburn / acid reflux. Image Credit: Hanna_photo / Shutterstock

Melons are also good at preventing heartburn, because they are only mildly acidic while providing a filling, water-rich and nutritious snack or meal.

Whole grain bread could be toasted or topped with fresh fruit, eggs, nut butters in small quantities, or yogurt for another healthy, but appealing meal. Rice or couscous is also a good choice, especially brown rice, which is rich in fiber.

How should vegetables be cooked to prevent acid reflux?

Vegetables often taste better if they are roasted rather than boiled or steamed. The roasting allows the natural sugars in these foods to emerge and caramelize. Some vegetables suitable for roasting are carrots and sweet potatoes, squash, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and broccoli. Other ways to make vegetables taste great are broiling, sautéing or grilling them, thereby avoiding sharp and pungent spices in the process. Vegetables are typically low in acid.

Raw vegetables in the form of a salad are also fine. These sooth the stomach while providing nutrition. Unlike processed foods, these usually lack any added substances like excesses spices or salt. It is easy to put together a delicious salad, combined with chicken or beans, for a filling meal that would significantly reduce the chances of acid reflux being triggered.

How do I flavor food?

To add flavor to these foods, fresh herbs or herb blends can be used. Spices should be used in very small amounts if they trigger acid reflux. Instead, herbs like basil, parsley, and oregano may be chosen.

If a sauce is called for, it is important to use a low-fat recipe. Herbs, cheese, nuts and a dash of oil will make a good dressing, which does not cause or worsen acid reflux.

Is yogurt a good choice?

Yogurt that is not too sour is also excellent for acid reflux, because of the probiotics that help normalize bowel function. Yogurt also provides protein, and soothes stomach discomfort, often providing a cooling sensation.

It is easy to choose foods by looking them up to see how acidic they are. The higher the pH of a food, the more likely it is to soothe your discomfort. Thus any food with a pH above 5 or 6 is probably good for people with acid reflux.

Further Reading

Last Updated: Feb 14, 2019

Dr. Liji Thomas

Written by

Dr. Liji Thomas

Dr. Liji Thomas is an OB-GYN, who graduated from the Government Medical College, University of Calicut, Kerala, in 2001. Liji practiced as a full-time consultant in obstetrics/gynecology in a private hospital for a few years following her graduation. She has counseled hundreds of patients facing issues from pregnancy-related problems and infertility, and has been in charge of over 2,000 deliveries, striving always to achieve a normal delivery rather than operative.

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