GERD can be a huge pain in the esophagus (literally), and it can have a huge impact on your quality of life.
Luckily, there’s plenty you can do to treat GERD naturally.
Here’s what you need to know about GERD and your diet, plus lifestyle changes to nip it in the bud.
What Is GERD?
GERD is short for gastroesophageal reflux disease, or chronic acid reflux.
It’s a condition where stomach acid gets backed up in the esophagus: the tube that runs from the stomach to the throat.
What Causes GERD?
GERD occurs when the LES valve at the end of the esophagus doesn’t shut properly.
In healthy people, this valve shuts immediately after food enters the stomach. (1)
However, if the LES valve doesn’t close quickly enough, stomach acid and partially digested food can gurgle back into the esophagus and cause heartburn.
If this happens more than twice a week over a period of two months, you might have GERD!
The Difference Between Acid Reflux, Heartburn & GERD
Although people like to use these terms interchangeably, they actually have very different meanings.
Let’s take a closer look.
Believe it or not, heartburn has nothing to do with the heart!
Instead, the pain is actually in the esophagus.
Heartburn causes mild to severe chest pain and is often mistaken for a heart attack.
As it turns out, the lining of the esophagus is a lot more delicate than the stomach.
When stomach acid enters the esophagus, it causes the sharp, burning, or tightening sensation we call heartburn. (2)
The term “acid reflux” refers to the condition that causes heartburn.
When the LES valve in your esophagus doesn’t shut properly, stomach acid can make its way back into the esophagus.
The sensations and pain you feel when this happens are called heartburn!
But hold on, isn’t this exactly what GERD is?
Well, yes and no…
So, what’s the difference then between acid reflux and GERD?
The answer is quite simple.
GERD is a chronic form of acid reflux.
If you get acid reflux more than twice a week, it’s called GERD, or chronic acid reflux.
If left untreated, GERD can even lead to cancer over time. (3)
Symptoms of GERD
- Bad breath
- Damaged enamel
- The sensation that stomach contents are coming back up the throat
- Long-lasting dry cough
- Chest pain
- Problems swallowing
If you’re experiencing these symptoms, there are several diet and lifestyle changes to reduce stomach acid so your esophagus can heal. (4)
Prevention & Management – GERD and Your Diet
Even making a few simple modifications may already do the trick! (5)
Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to cut out all of your favorite foods.
Everyone is unique, and foods that trigger one person may be fine for someone else.
With that said, here are some basic guidelines for GERD and your diet.
4 Best GERD-friendly Foods
According to most health experts, there is no “proven” strict GERD diet to follow.
However, the following foods may help reduce or prevent the symptoms. (7)
Vegetables are great because they’re high in fiber and low in acid.
When it comes to vegetables, you’re pretty much free to choose whatever you like, except for onions and garlic because they are fairly acidic.
Cucumbers are especially good because they are anti-inflammatory and contain mostly water.
2. Lean Proteins
Eggs are amazing as they are high in protein.
However, if you’re not a big fan of eggs, stick to the egg whites.
The yolks have higher fat content and are much more likely to trigger symptoms.
When it comes to meat, opt for lean meats that are broiled, grilled, or baked.
High-fat meats which are fried highly increase the risk of reflux and should be avoided if possible.
3. High-fiber Carbs
Gluten-free oatmeal and rice are great options.
They are full of healthy complex carbs and also add a proper amount of fiber to your diet.
Sweet potatoes are also great sources of digestible fiber and healthy carbs.
Keep in mind though to refrain from adding onions and garlic in these meals!
4. Healthy Fats
Not all fats are created equal!
Fat is in fact a very important nutrient and a necessary part of our diet.
However, you should avoid trans fats, which are often found in processed foods.
Instead, opt or replace them in moderation with natural fats from fish or plants.
You can get healthy saturated fats from oils like extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and fish oil from wild-caught fish like salmon and sardines.
How You Eat Matters
How you eat plays a big role in keeping that pesky GERD in check.
Keep a good posture during and after each meal.
Simply sit upright while eating and refrain from lying down for at least two hours after each meal.
In addition, go for a nice walk after your meal.
All of the above should help push the gastric juices to flow in the right direction.
When You Eat Matters Too!
Avoid eating a full meal 3-4 hours before bed.
That’s because digestion boosts stomach acid and increases the chance of acid reflux.
Plus, it’s easier for the stomach acid to sneak into your esophagus when you’re lying down.
So the moral of the story is, don’t eat too close to bedtime!
Foods and Drinks to Avoid
Here’s a list of foods you should definitely steer clear of altogether: (6)
- Fried foods high in trans fat
- Sodas and other carbonated beverages
- Citrus products
- Tomato products
A few simple changes to the way you currently eat should help reduce the symptoms of GERD.
The most important thing is to eat a variety of healthy foods including vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats.
5 Lifestyle Changes to Fight GERD
1. Keep Your Head Up (Literally)
When you go to bed, try to keep your head slightly elevated.
Do so by simply adding an extra pillow or two to prevent acid reflux.
2. Eat Smaller, More Frequent Meals
Smaller meals are easier to digest and produce less stomach acid.
This promotes proper digestion and in turn, prevents heartburn and acid reflux from occurring.
3. Avoid Tight-fitting Clothes
Although tight clothes are in fashion these days, you should wear loose-fitting clothes if you have GERD.
That’s because the pressure from tight clothing can make acid reflux and heartburn worse.
4. Quit Smoking
Smoking cigarettes is awful for GERD for two main reasons:
- Increases the production of stomach acids
- Reduces the function of the LES valve in the esophagus
To make matters worse, smoking decreases saliva production, which helps neutralize acids in the body.
5. Lose Those Extra Pounds
Have some extra pounds that you’d like to lose?
This is a very good idea, especially so if you suffer from GERD. (8)
Extra weight is similar to tight-fitting clothes because it puts pressure on your gut and esophagus and can make symptoms worse.
If you have any more questions about GERD and your diet, feel free to reach out to us at Complete Care Health Centers.
We’re happy to answer any questions you may have.