GERD Diet: Foods to Avoid, Meal Plan, and More
Updated August 28, 2022
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition that occurs when your stomach contents back up to your esophagus, the tube that connects your throat and stomach.
This causes belching, bloating, and other uncomfortable digestive symptoms.
Fortunately, you can reduce or eliminate these symptoms by avoiding certain foods and implementing other lifestyle changes.
This article explains what to eat and avoid with GERD to alleviate your symptoms and provides a 3-day sample GERD diet menu.
What is GERD?
GERD is a condition that occurs when stomach contents — acid, digestive enzymes, and bile salts — back up to your esophagus.
It’s one of the most common digestive disorders worldwide, especially in America where up to 28% of Americans have GERD (1).
However, GERD may be underdiagnosed and affect even more people because of access to over-the-counter acid-reducing medications that can treat GERD symptoms.
There are several factors linked to the development of GERD, including (2):
- overweight and obesity
- genetic factors
- high-fat diet
- excess alcohol use
- hiatal hernia
- bariatric surgery
- low vagal tone
Several medications have also been associated with GERD, including drugs that lower cholesterol and blood pressure and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (2).
Symptoms and complications
This reflux of stomach contents causes a burning sensation in your chest (heartburn) and may leave a sour or bitter taste in your throat and mouth.
Other symptoms of GERD include (2):
- upper stomach pain
- dysphagia or difficulty swallowing
GERD symptoms tend to occur after meals and may worsen when lying down.
The frequency in which symptoms occur varies by person, but they can occur anywhere from twice a week to daily (3).
GERD can cause health complications that develop slowly over time from the repeated reflux of stomach contents, which causes inflammation and damage to the lining of the esophagus.
GERD complications include (2):
- Barrett’s esophagus: A condition where the normal tissue lining of your esophagus changes to tissue that resembles the lining of the intestine.
- Esophageal stricture: A narrowing or tightening of the esophagus, which can cause swallowing difficulties.
- Esophageal cancer: A form of cancer that occurs in the esophagus.
Dietary changes and other treatment options for GERD aim to reduce symptoms and the risk of complications.
However, if symptoms persist, surgery may be required, which may lead to other complications like dumping syndrome.
GERD is the reflux of stomach contents. It causes uncomfortable digestive symptoms like bloating, heartburn, and belching, and over time, GERD can cause health complications like Barrett’s esophagus.
Research on which diet is best for GERD remains limited.
However, some foods and drinks have been associated with a decrease in GERD symptoms, while others have been associated with an increase in them.
Still, the types of foods and beverages that may produce symptoms in one person may not produce them in another.
As such, you should identify which foods trigger GERD symptoms and remove or eliminate them from your diet.
Foods to avoid
Certain foods and beverages can relax the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) muscle, which acts as a gate between the esophagus and stomach.
When this muscle is relaxed at the wrong time, stomach acid can travel back up through the esophagus, causing heartburn.
Therefore, you may find symptom relief by avoiding or limiting foods and beverages that relax the LES muscle or irritate the esophagus lining.
These foods include (4, 5, 6):
- Spicy foods and condiments: dishes, sauces, and seasonings made with hot peppers, such as habanero, cayenne, jalapeños, and chili peppers
- Citrus fruits: lemons, limes, grapefruits, mandarin oranges, tangerines
- Fried foods: doughnuts, french fries, onion rings, funnel cake, etc.
- Added sugars: bakery products, breakfast cereals, candy, desserts, soda, sports drinks
- Caffeine: coffee, tea, energy drinks
- Other items: alcohol, chocolate, tomato juice, pizza
Avoiding or limiting these foods may also help alleviate the symptoms of gastritis, a condition where the stomach becomes inflamed.
Because these foods affect everyone differently, it’s best to keep a journal so you can track your foods and the symptoms you may experience as a result.
It’s possible for a food to trigger your symptoms in large amounts but not small amounts so experiment with the amount of a suspected food and the frequency in which you consume it.
Interestingly, an allergy to nickel is common in people with GERD and following a low-nickel diet has been shown to improve symptoms (7, 8).
However, many high-nickel foods like whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds are beneficial for reducing GERD symptoms, so you shouldn’t restrict these foods unless you know you have a nickel allergy.
Up to 47% of people with GERD also experience irritable bowel syndrome and may therefore benefit from following a low-FODMAP diet (9).
For example, one study found that a high FODMAP meal led to LES relaxation and consequently GERD symptoms in people with IBS and GERD (9).
Foods to eat
Eating a fiber-rich diet may protect against the development of GERD complications like Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer (10).
A fiber-rich diet has also been associated with fewer and shorter episodes of acid reflux and heartburn in people with GERD (11).
However, these benefits cannot be attributed to fiber alone as fiber-rich foods — including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — also contain other healthy nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which may have protective effects against GERD and its complications.
For example, one study showed that people who consumed more vitamins and minerals from fruits and vegetables were less likely to have GERD or develop related complications (12).
In either case, eating a diet rich in nutrient- and fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and other minimally processed foods may ease GERD symptoms.
Foods to eat with GERD include:
- Non-citrus fruits: apples, bananas, berries, cherries, grapes, melons, pomegranates, etc.
- Vegetables: asparagus, beets, broccoli, carrots, green beans, mushrooms, spinach, etc.
- Grains and starches: beans, brown rice, oats, peas, popcorn, potatoes, quinoa, whole-grain bread and pasta
- Low-fat dairy: cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, milk
- Seafood: cod, tuna, salmon, scallops, tilapia, trout, tuna
- Lean proteins: chicken, cod, pork loin, turkey, sirloin and tenderloin steaks
- Nuts and seeds: almonds, chia seeds, flaxseeds, pecans, walnuts
Low-fat dairy products are generally tolerated better than their high-fat alternatives, but one study suggested no differences in GERD symptoms in those who consumed high-fat dairy compared with low-fat dairy (13).
This study highlights the importance of identifying foods that trigger your symptoms, as GERD affects everyone differently.
Spicy, citrus, and fried foods, among others, may trigger GERD symptoms, whereas fruits, vegetables, and other minimally processed foods may alleviate them.
3-day sample GERD diet menu
Here is an example of a three-day sample GERD diet menu that is rich in fiber and other foods that may ease symptoms:
- Breakfast: oatmeal and spinach omelet
- Lunch: grilled chicken avocado wrap
- Snack: Greek yogurt and blueberries
- Dinner: salmon, brown rice, and asparagus
Day 2 (vegan)
- Breakfast: vegan overnight oats
- Lunch: roasted chickpea salad
- Snack: mixed nuts and apple slices
- Dinner: vegan power bowl
- Breakfast: low-fat cottage cheese and cucumber slices on whole-grain toast
- Lunch: chopped cobb salad with chicken
- Snack: hummus and veggies for dipping
- Dinner: pork loin, baked sweet potato, and roasted brussels sprouts
Limit foods that may trigger your GERD symptoms, such as citrus fruits, spicy foods, fried foods, foods with added sugars, and other items like alcohol.
Other tips for managing GERD
Identifying which foods and drinks trigger your symptoms and limiting or avoiding them is important for GERD management.
In addition to diet, there are other ways to alleviate acid reflux and heartburn.
Carrying excess body weight is a risk factor for the development of GERD and its complications.
As such, losing excess body fat may help reduce or eliminate GERD symptoms (14).
Indeed, a study of 332 people with excess body weight found that a 5–10% decrease in weight was associated with a reduction in GERD symptoms in 81% of the study participants, and 65% experienced a complete resolution of reflux symptoms (15).
A combination of a low-calorie diet and regular exercise can help you lose weight and keep it off in the long term (16).
Not only can the types of foods you eat help you manage GERD, but so can your eating behaviors.
Here are some eating tips to ease your GERD symptoms (16, 17, 18):
- Eat more slowly. Eating quickly has been associated with an increase in acid reflux episodes. Set your eating utensils down between bits and thoroughly chew your food.
- Avoid late-night eating. Eating within three hours of bedtime compared with four has been linked with heartburn and acid reflux. Sleeping at a slight incline with your head elevated 6–8 inches can also help ease symptoms if you frequently experience them at night.
- Consume small, frequent meals. While eating too much fat has been suggested to trigger heartburn and acid reflux, eating fewer calories at meals may be more effective for reducing symptoms.
To help ease your GERD symptoms, try to eat more slowly, avoid late-night snacking, and consume smaller, more frequent meals.
The bottom line
GERD occurs when your stomach contents back up to your esophagus.
Certain foods may trigger your symptoms while others may ease them.
However, the types of foods and beverages that produce symptoms can vary person-to-person.
Therefore, you should identify which foods trigger your symptoms and eliminate them from your diet or reduce your consumption of them.
You can also ease your symptoms by slowing down at meals, eating your last meal at least four hours before bed, and consuming smaller more frequent meals.