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The best and worst foods for acid reflux and heartburn

Acid reflux is a common problem for people all around the globe, affecting up to every 1 in 4 UK adults. Following a specific acid reflux diet can help control this condition and generally help control symptoms in the long-term, helping those who experience it more frequently, less frequently.

Before we continue, it should be noted that there is a difference between acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The difference is made upon how frequent acid reflux is experienced. GERD patients experience reflux more than twice a week, as well as symptoms including regurgitation of food or sour liquid, coughing, loud breathing or wheezing, and heartburn. GERD symptoms can particularly be bad at night, which can cause disruptions in sleep patterns.

The food you consume could be the difference between what helps acid reflux and what causes acid reflux. The worst foods for GERD and acid reflux can worsen painful symptoms, while other foods can soothe them.

Below you can find some of the best foods and which acid reflux foods to avoid to keep symptoms under control.

Citrus fruits cut in half

What is acid reflux

Acid reflux is the feeling of a burning sensation located in the chest. Acid travelling from the stomach upwards towards the throat causes this sensation. When this is experienced regularly, it’s called gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, or GORD/GERD for short. Some of the main symptoms of acid reflux include:

  • Burning sensation in the middle of the chest
  • A sour, unpleasant taste in the mouth

Symptoms of acid reflux reportedly get worse after eating, lying down or when bending over. Other, less frequent symptoms can occur including:

  • Hiccups or a cough that keeps coming back
  • Hoarse voice
  • Bad breath
  • Feeling bloated or sick

Some people may have experienced acid reflux their entire life, but have never actually known what is acid reflux and its symptoms.

Acid reflux treatment

Simple changes to lifestyle and diet can be an extremely effective acid reflux treatment. Medicines that can be purchased without a prescription can also be effective acid reflux treatment.

When it comes to eating and drinking, try to sit down, chew well and take your time eating instead of gobbling it all down at once. Try to replace spices with herbs, and try to include cooked vegetables, yogurt, lean meats and fish into your diet.

Citrus fruits like oranges can be too acidic when a flare-up happens, but fruits like pears, apples, peaches and bananas can be easier on the stomach. Excess alcohol consumption is also a trigger for acid reflux.

In terms of acid reflux treatment that are medicines, reflux suppressants can be bought from the majority of retail stores and pharmacies. Reflux suppressants form a protective layer on top of any stomach contents. The layer prevents reflux and keeps the stomach contents away from the lining of the food pipe.

On the other hand, prescription only medication is available if you have spoken to your doctor about how to get rid of acid reflux when general sales medicines haven’t helped. Prescription only acid reflux tablets called ‘proton pump inhibitors’ can help reduce the amount of acid the stomach creates. Acid reflux tablets like these are only used for short-term treatment in adults. Speak to a doctor or pharmacist if you want to know how to get rid of acid reflux. Observing your symptoms, they’ll be able to recommend the most suitable acid reflux treatment options.

Nurse holding the hand of a patient

Acid reflux diet

Experiencing acid reflux once in a while isn’t exactly unusual, but some people suffer more often from burning discomfort, bloating and belching almost every time they eat. Diet plays a pivotal role in controlling acid reflux symptoms and is the first line of therapy for people with GERD. Whenever people ask what causes acid reflux, the first problem that springs to mind is diet.

Acid reflux foods to avoid that most commonly trigger heartburn includes foods that are high in fat, salt or spice such as:

  • Fried food
  • Fast food
  • Pizza
  • Potato chips and other processed snacks
  • Chilli powder and pepper
  • Fatty meals such as bacon and sausage
  • Cheese

Other foods that can cause problems include:

  • Tomato-based sauces
  • Citrus fruits
  • Chocolate
  • Peppermint
  • Carbonated beverages

Although all of the above are technically acid reflux foods to avoid, moderation is key. Many people will enjoy the type of foods that eventually cause discomfort, and some may not be able to eliminate them from their diet completely due to reasons such as finance. In such cases, it is best to avoid eating the type of foods that aggravate symptoms before evening or bedtime, so that they’re not sitting on the stomach and coming up the oesophagus when laying down. It is also generally advisable to eat small frequent meals instead of bigger, heaver meals.

Foods that help prevent acid reflux

Even though there are a number of different foods you need to avoid that causes acid reflux dietary modification, there is still good news. There are plenty of things you can eat to help prevent acid reflux. The following three categories should provide aid in preventing symptoms whilst also aiding general health:

High-fibre foods

Food high in fibre makes you feel full so you’re less likely to overeat, which may contribute to heartburn. Make sure you are adding these foods to your acid reflux dietary modification:

  • Whole grains such as porridge, brown rice and couscous.
  • Vegetables such as potatoes, carrots and beets.
  • Green vegetables such as broccoli, green beans and asparagus.

Alkaline foods

A food’s pH level indicates the amount of acidity. Foods that have a lower pH level are more acidic, whereas foods with a higher pH level are more alkaline. Those that have a low pH are more likely to cause acid reflux. The pH scale ranges from 0-14, and as an example, water is a 7 on the pH scale, which is considered neutral. Alkaline foods include:

  • Bananas
  • Melons
  • Cauliflower
  • Fennel
  • Nuts

Watery foods

Eating foods that contain a lot water can dilute and weaken stomach acid. Try to include the following foods in your acid reflux dietary modification:

  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Lettuce
  • Watermelon
  • Broth-based soups
  • Herbal tea
Baskets full of green vegetables

What to drink for acid reflux

As well as food, different types of drinks can also cause or increase severity of symptoms related to acid reflux. Knowing what to drink for acid reflux can further reduce symptomatic episodes. In addition to following some of the what to drink for acid reflux suggestions below, try to sip liquids instead of drinking them quickly.

Ginger tea

Studies have shown that ginger tea eases pressure on the low oesophageal sphincter and improves gastric emptying. Increased pressure increases the risk of the sphincter failing, allowing stomach acid to flow back up the food pipe. By reducing pressure, ginger reduces this risk and keeps the stomach acid contained.

In addition to easing pressure, ginger can also effectively reduce the amount of acid present in the upper digestive tract.

Low fat milk

Milk is often though to relieve heartburn associated with acid reflux, but it’s important to consider that milk can come in different varieties – full fat milk, 2% fat, and skimmed or fat free milk. Milk that has fat can aggravate acid reflux. However, milk that is low in fat can act as a temporary buffer between the stomach lining and acidic stomach contents. Similarly, low fat yogurt also has the same soothing qualities along with a healthy dose of good bacteria to enhance digestion.

Lemon water

Although considered very acidic, a small amount of lemon juice can be mixed with water and honey to reduce acidity. By doing so, the lemon juice has an alkalizing effect that neutralizes stomach acid. It also has the added effect of natural oxidants provided via honey, protecting the health of cells.


After following the above what helps acid reflux and other tips given to you by your doctor or pharmacist, and you still experience recurring acid reflux, it may be best to book another appointment with your doctor.

A treatment plan can be prescribed that fits your specific symptoms and test for any related issues.

In extreme cases, surgery may be an option. Surgical intervention can help reinforce or strengthen the low oesophageal sphincter.

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