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Tips for Avoiding Reflux

Updated: Jan 17, 2023

Even if you are not one of the 20% of individuals who have been given the diagnosis of gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), you can still benefit from learning about how nutrition therapy can help. There is nothing worse than eating great food and then feeling it come back up.

Reflux occurs when the sphincter above the stomach is weak or relaxes at the wrong time, and food in the stomach mixed with some acid come back up or reflux into the esophagus causing mild discomfort or a severe burning sensation (heartburn).

Learning the why's behind the "List of Do Not'" gives you the information you need to modify your food behaviors/choices based on the situation and have your stomach be a peace.

Limit foods that decrease the strength of the sphincter

Substances that weaken the sphincter include:

  • Alcohol

  • Caffeinated products such as coffee, tea, chocolate, some soda's etc.

  • Peppermint (Spearmint has not shown to decrease sphincter pressure)

One research study found that 3.5 grams of caffeine per kg of body weight has a negative effect on sphincter strength. So for some individuals a glass of wine with a large meal followed by chocolate mouse and coffee, may be enough to cause reflux. As we age we tend to have more problems with reflux.

Limit the amount of liquid at a meal

The stomach is only so big. Have only a small amount of liquids with a meal to avoid over-filling the stomach. On the weekend, if I have a big breakfast, I feel better when I have just one cup of tea and not two. More caffeine, weakens the sphincter and the liquids don't stay in my stomach if I am bending over as I do housework.

D-Limonene, from the peel of citrus fruit may be helpful for reducing symptoms of reflux. Mechanism and the amount needed is still being researched.

Be aware of foods that irritate the lining of the esophagus

It is often recommended to avoid acidic foods like orange juice and tomato sauce and spicy foods like chili peppers and jalapenos because they can irritate the lining of the esophagus, especially if the lining of the esophagus is damaged from the stomach acid.

A high fat meal delays stomach emptying

If you are eating a higher fat meal, be mindful of how other factors affect your reflux. You may want to decrease the amount of liquids at that meal or limit beverages or foods that decrease the strength of the sphincter. If you have any reflux, take note of what you ate prior to the reflux. Sometimes you will notice some weird quirks that cannot be explained. My husband has noticed that he can get heartburn when he has potato chips with a flavored vodka as an evening snack, but chips with regular vodka are just fine.

Avoid lying down after a meal

Lastly avoid lying down after a big meal and make sure you wait at least two hours before you go to bed. The goal is to keep the food going down the digestive tract and gravity will help.

Take notice and self-correct

Its best to try and prevent the reflux, but if not look at what you ate and see if you can figure out what foods/beverages may have caused the reflux. It is often a couple of things in combination.

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