The 6 Best Foods That Can Help Alleviate Acid Reflux

Eating these specific items may reduce that painful burn.

Experiencing acid reflux is not pleasant. In some cases, it's downright painful. Though it's common to have occasional reflux, some people have it on a more regular basis. In fact, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, about 20% of people in the United States have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Reflux is also known as heartburn or indigestion.

While many people who experience acid reflux rely on over-the-counter and prescription medication to treat the condition, lifestyle changes may be just as effective.

Here, three medical experts explain the condition, what causes it and why small tweaks to your routine, including eating certain foods, can play a big role in reducing that dreaded burn.

a photo of a woman sitting on a couch with acid reflux
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What Is Acid Reflux, Exactly?

Acid reflux is the backward flow of stomach acid into the esophagus, also known as the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach, says Peyton Berookim, M.D., a Los Angeles-based double board-certified gastroenterologist and director of the Gastroenterology Institute of Southern California. Every time you swallow, he explains, a circular band of muscle around the bottom of your esophagus, known as the lower esophageal sphincter, relaxes to allow food and liquid to flow forward into your stomach. From there, the sphincter typically closes, though if the sphincter relaxes abnormally or weakens for any reason, the stomach acid can flow back into the esophagus.

The acid in your stomach is particularly strong, explains internist Sunit Srivastava, M.D., a Florida-based internal medicine doctor at Largo Medical Center, so when it leaks out into other areas of your body, it can cause a range of reactions, from irritation and inflammation to pre-cancerous and sometimes even cancerous conditions. "Acid reflux can range from being benign and annoying to terminal, if it's left untreated and severe enough," says Srivastava.

For many people, the condition will manifest as a sour taste in the mouth or a burning sensation in the chest, known best as heartburn, says Berookim. Other signs and symptoms may include regurgitation of food or sour liquid, coughing, wheezing, difficulty swallowing, raspy voice and even chest pain, he adds.

What Causes It?

There are several things that can cause acid reflux. The first: What Srivastava describes as "a chemical phenomenon" that relaxes the valve at the top of the stomach, causing it to open and thus allowing the acid to travel upward. The phenomenon can be triggered by nicotine, alcohol and "very large meals," he says.

Two other causes are the result of "mechanical phenomena," says Srivastava. The first involves part of the stomach moving out into the chest cavity. "It sounds a lot worse than it is," he says. "A lot of people have it." The second is due to excess body weight, particularly in the midsection. A larger midsection may increase pressure on the stomach, pushing acid up, Srivastava says.

Who Is at Risk?

People with certain conditions are more at-risk for developing acid reflux. These include obesity, hiatal hernia, pregnancy, connective tissue disorders and delayed stomach emptying, says Berookim. On top of that, certain lifestyle factors can worsen acid reflux, including smoking, eating heavy meals (especially late at night), eating fatty or fried foods, tomatoes and citrus fruits, chocolate or peppermint, and drinking alcohol or coffee, he adds. These high-acid foods add acid to the stomach and increase the likelihood of irritation, says Maya Feller, M.S., RD, a New York-based registered dietitian.

6 Best Foods for Acid Reflux

Just as certain foods may trigger acid reflux, others can assuage the condition."What works for one may not work for all," caveats Feller. "But generally, we encourage folks to consume low-acid foods." Foods that are higher in pH are lower in acid. Generally, the pH of a food isn't listed on the label, so it can be difficult to determine this. Both Feller and Berookim recommend the following options:

1. Oatmeal

This fiber-filled breakfast food may coat the sensitive lining of the esophagus, says Berookim, and is not an irritant for most people, says Feller. Try these make-ahead Cinnamon-Roll Overnight Oats for healthy and cool acid-reflux-free breakfasts all week long.

2. Aloe Vera

This plant doesn't just soothe sunburns—it may also soothe your gastrointestinal system. Preliminary research suggests that aloe vera may reduce acid reflux symptoms, according to a 2022 review in the journal Nutrients. Look for 100% aloe vera juice without any additives or anthraquinones (an organic compound in aloe that can be a laxative). Blend aloe vera juice with cucumber, spinach and celery for a sippable solution, suggests Feller.

3. Fennel

This spicy-sweet vegetable may help with digestion, says Feller. Fennel teas "have a wonderful flavor and generally can be consumed daily," she adds, and fennel bulb can be cooked with lentils and other root vegetables or sliced and eaten raw with greens. Check out these healthy fennel recipes for inspiration.

4. Melon

Many fruits, like oranges, cranberries, kiwis and pomegranates, are acidic. But melons, including cantaloupe and honeydew, are not, which means they're likely good bets for those with acid reflux. Have a few slices at breakfast or as an afternoon snack.

5. Bananas

Another stomach-settling fruit, bananas—especially ripe bananas—have a high pH. You can always eat them plain, add them to your oatmeal for a doubly good option or try baking with them in these Baked Banana-Nut Oatmeal Cups.

6. Green Vegetables

When it comes to vegetables, leafy greens like kale and spinach are healthy, low-in-acid options. Learn how to cook kale here, and scope these Healthy Spinach Recipes.

What to Do If You Have Acid Reflux

If you think you have acid reflux, head to your doctor for an official evaluation, as the symptoms you're experiencing may be a result of other conditions, like ulcers, or even heart disease, says Srivastava. If you do indeed have acid reflux, lifestyle modification is your best bet for combatting it, says Srivastava. That's because prescription drugs used to treat acid reflux come with a range of side effects, including increased risk of pneumonia, hip and spine fractures and C. diff (a potentially life-threatening bacterial infection), vitamin malabsorption, and progression of osteoporosis. Certain medications may also have links with dementia, he says.

Helpful lifestyle changes include losing excess weight, eating smaller meals and swapping the foods that typically cause heartburn for the safer bets mentioned above. On top of that, you should stop eating at least three hours before bed, Berookim adds. Exercise is another great way to alleviate the condition, says Srivastava. He explains that regular physical activity helps your body release endorphins that can relieve pressure on your esophagus.

The Bottom Line

Acid reflux is a common condition, but lifestyle changes, including eating more of certain foods like oatmeal, bananas and green vegetables, can help cool the burn. As always, see your doctor for an evaluation if you're experiencing any acid reflux symptoms.

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