Acid Reflux / Heartburn: Nutrition and Management


Acid Reflux or heartburn often occur due to a back-up of stomach acid into the esophagus. This results from a lower esophageal sphincter that doesn’t tighten as it should due to multiple factors that vary from one person to another. Certain foods and lifestyle factors can worsen the reflux and there are steps you can take to help reduce heartburn pain and get relief from your symptoms.

Dietary factors:

Dietary factors that stimulate acid reflux vary from one person to another. Foods include but are not limited to:

  • Tomato products such as tomato sauce, chilli sauce, and other tomato based foods
  • Citrus fruits
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Chocolate
  • Caffeine and caffeinated beverages
  • Alcohol
  • Spices
  • Fat: Oil, butter, margarine, mayonnaise, deep-fried foods
Lifestyle factors
  • Excess pressure on the stomach: Two excesses can contribute to heartburn: too much food in the stomach, as a result of overeating, or too much pressure on the stomach frequently due to obesity, pregnancy, or constipation.

Other factors include:

  • Smoking
  • Stress
  • Some medications
Food to the rescue!
  • Balanced diet:

Eating a variety of foods from Canada’s Food Guide food groups can help you determine and avoid/eliminate those causing your burning symptoms. When your symptoms have settled, you may try re-introducing these foods into your diet in small amounts and as part of a balanced meal.

  • Small, frequent meals: 

Eating 4 to 6 small meals at regular times everyday can help reduce reflux by avoiding overeating and overfilling your stomach.

  • Complex Carbohydrates: 

Consuming foods rich in fibre such as vegetables, fruit and whole grains may serve to speed the passage of stomach contents to the intestines, decreasing the opportunity for reflux. 

Bananas make a great healthy, satisfying snack, and are usually great for acid reflux. However, some people find that their symptoms can worsen after eating bananas. So bear that in mind, as what what works for most people may not work for you.

  • Fats:

One significant culprit that can cause symptoms is fatty food. Try to choose lean meats, poultry, fish and beans as protein sources. Limit the amount of added butter and oil in your meals to 30-45 mL/day. Opt for baked dishes instead of fried foods and choose low fat dairy products.

  • Liquids: 

Liquids add to the volume of food in your stomach and increases stomach distension. To minimize stomach volume, take small sips of water while you eat, and try to drink mostly between rather than during meals.

Other steps that could help reduce symptoms of reflux:
  • Used in moderation, ginger may be effective in relieving heartburn. You can use it while cooking or add it to smoothies.
  • Probiotics and chewing gum may also be effective in relieving heartburn.
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight as this would help reduce pressure on your stomach
  • Sit upright while eating and up to an hour after eating
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Avoid wearing clothes that are tight around your waist and stomach
  • Stretch or walk around often after meals
  • Avoid eating two to three hours before bedtime

Try keeping a log of what you eat and drink throughout the day. Note when symptoms seem to flare up and review your log over time to identify patterns. Stay in contact with your doctor and a registered dietitian so they can help guide you to the best prevention and treatment strategies.

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